Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Wednesday, July 14, 2021 (Day 44)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 44 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Awake, why sleep, O Master!
Rouse up, neglect not forever.
Why do You hide Your face,
forget our affliction, our oppression?
For our neck is bowed to the dust,
our belly clings to the ground.
Rise as a help to us and redeem us
for the sake of Your kindness.

An Opening Word
The idea that God is asleep on the job is panic inducing, and yet, there are times in which the suffering of God’s people is so vast that it seems unlikely that God is alert. If God is good, why are good people suffering? It is a classic question for any of us, ancient or modern. So Psalm 44’s call for God to be “Awake!” seems reasonable. Psalm 44 is articulating a towering communal catastrophe. Probably a war, lost. But we can equally pray Psalm 44 as we think back over the last year of global destruction. “Rouse up, neglect not forever,” seems apt.

In his work on “A Theology of Protest,” theologian David Blumenthal takes on the hard task of asking where God was for the Jews during the Holocaust using Psalm 44. No question haunts us more, even now in the twenty-first century. He says that part of being in a covenant relationship with God, where both sides agree to certain parameters of faithfulness and shared life (an ancient binding divine-human contract), is that both sides have the right to feel outrage and self-righteous indignation. Just as God can be angry at us for disobedience, we too as God’s people have the right to call God to account. Being angry at God is a countercultural theological viewpoint that doesn’t get enough air time. I think some people who say “no” to religion are sometimes actually saying, “I am angry at God.” Here in lieu of the more modern habits of nihilism or straight hostility to faith, we see a way in which such anger is allowed to be directed back at God. Psalm 44 welcomes us into an ancient, prayerful, faithful anger at God that is necessary when we see and experience suffering, which keeps us in relationship with God all the while.

Today’s mystic too wrestles with Christ’s being awake or asleep and what that means. Native of New Spain (now Mexico), Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was a young prodigy born in 1648 who devoured every book ever set in front of her, and at the age of twenty, joined the convent of San Jeronimo. Part of becoming a nun meant that she could continue pursuing the intellectual world of her day, which she would not have been able to do as wife and mother in her era. From the convent she wrote widely, participating in both arts and the sciences. But the more she pursued writing, and sent her writings to others, the more scrutiny she received from the ecclesiastical authorities. Eventually after what Jane Hershfield* describes as “a firestorm of criticism,” Sor Juana senses her own vulnerable position as a nun and succumbs to the limits set by the churchmen of her day. She was forced to sign “a new profession of faith” in her own blood, all her possessions were taken from her including her thousands of books, and she had to give up writing for the rest of her life. She died in intellectual and social confinement, two years later from an illness (flu? malaria? cholera?) that past quickly through her convent.

Prayer from the Mystics: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648–1695)
Because my Lord was born to suffer, let him stay awake.
Because for me He is awake, let Him fall asleep.
Let Him stay awake—there is no pain for one who loves as painless would be.
Let Him sleep—for one who sleeps, in dreaming, prepares himself to die.
Silence, now He sleeps!
Careful, He’s awake!
Do not disturb Him, no!
Yes, He must be waked!
Let Him wake and wake!
Let Him have his sleep!

*From “The Fifth Villancico, in alternating voices, written for the Feast of the Nativity in Puebla, 1689. (Villancico: A poetic form derived from the simple language and strong rhythms of peasant songs, written to be part of the great religious celebrations held in cities throughout New Spain.) from Jane Hirschfield’s “Women in Praise of the Sacred”

July 14, 2021

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