Many of us have had quite a rough last few months. We hear every day a constant barrage of bad news. School shootings. Cruelties, both great and casual, that are visited upon the most vulnerable among us. Beloved friends getting devastating diagnoses, and succumbing to them even after a long, valiant struggle.
This is why I myself am grateful for the vision of mercy and honesty which is at the heart of one of our psalms for this morning, Psalm 130. Its beginning is immediately relatable: “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord….” The word for “depths” is the one used to speak of ocean deeps, a place at the very center of our being, yet dark and remote. For the people who first prayed this psalm, especially, the sea was a place of mystery and danger. Thus, the psalmist, in trying to express the extent of his feeling of desolation and alienation, creates an image of waters rising over his head and pulling him under. And haven’t we all felt that way, at one time or another?
Yet even in the cry from the foundation of his heart and soul, the psalmist voices his first statement of trust, for he knows that God can hear his voice no matter where the psalmist is. Just as in our reading from Genesis, the psalmist is certain that God is already seeking him out and listening for his voice even if his cry is not one of joy or surprise but of anxiety. God hears the psalmist’s voice from the depths—because God is always with us in the depths of our fear, anxiety, and despair. When we feel separated from God, it is not God who has done the moving away—it is us, sometimes, like the man and the woman in Eden, because we think we can run things just fine on our own.
In this particular case of this psalm, what has separated the writer from being fully in communion with God are his own actions. Yet God has not abandoned, and will not abandon, the psalmist. The psalmist confesses and acknowledges his very great fault and sins, which, if counted, would lead to utter condemnation. The psalmist lives in hope of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation with God. Despite all our human calculations and barriers, God’s love, mercy and reconciliation cannot be contained. Rather, God’s love will go where it will, making families of people who once were not only strangers but often outcasts. Even into the depths within ourselves, God still presses upon us, behind and before, below and above, and calls us out of ourselves, out of the toxic individualism that leaves us afraid, instead calling us into community with God, and with each other.
Even though this is a psalm of lament, nonetheless hope shines through it throughout. This is possible because of the three great qualities attributed to God in this brief psalm: forgiveness, steadfast love – which is the term used in the Old Testament for “grace” – and the power to redeem. These are the three essential qualities of God mentioned in this psalm which are vitally important to those who feel they have done something which has disrupted their relationship with God or with others.
The same God who has known us from our very first breath, loves us enough to allow us to choose to wander from obedience. The great theologian Verna Dozier, in her book The Dream of God: a Call to Return, remarked, “Creation is an act of love. To love is to be vulnerable. The story of creation bears that fact out. The lover seeks the beloved. The lover is not complete without the beloved.” Our reading from Genesis begins with God seeking God’s beloved creatures—and finding that they are hiding, not out of fear, it seems, but because they feel shame already before they have confessed what they have done to rupture the trust that God had laid upon them. And so too it is with us, sometimes.
Out of the depths within myself I cry to you, my God.
Most Merciful God, who has watched over us through the depths of night, lead us now into the light of your love. By your tender mercy, may we be drawn closer to you, Lord Jesus, and inspired by your truth. O Holy One, You have gathered us within your embrace: may we worship You in humility and loving-kindness. Keep us from all scorn or arrogance, O God, and make us gentle and true in all our ways, our spirits a haven for healing. Lord Christ, abide within us today, and fill the hearts of the weary with hope as we pray.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is former teacher, a gardener, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. Her blog of prayers and other writings is Abiding In Hope. The photo is from her personal collection.