Tuesday, June 22, 2021 (Day 22)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 22 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
My God, my God,
why have You forsaken me?
Far from my rescue are the words that I roar.
My God, I call out by day and you do not answer, by night
—no stillness for me.
And You, the Holy One
—enthroned in Israel’s praise.
In You did our fathers trust, they trusted,
and You set them free.
But I am a worm and no man,
a disgrace among men,
by the people reviled….
Do not be far from me,
for distress is near,
for there is none to help.
An Opening Word
Psalm 22 is a classic text that we hear every year during Holy Week when Jesus recites these same words from the cross. He speaks in his native tongue Aramaic, not the original Hebrew, but still it is that crucifixion-adjacent agony that the Psalmist is conjuring here. It is an evocative Psalm, one that reminds readers that, yes God has in the past been faithful. And yet the Psalmist experiences lasting and miserable suffering, and so why doesn’t God rescue now? Why is there this current suffering? Why doesn’t suffering fade into the historical record, recede from view? How does one find nearness to God? Help from God? Rescue? Answer? For those who have experienced lasting pain, trauma, strain, and trouble, this feeling of being alone or abandoned might resonate or be too close to home.
Today’s mystic was no stranger to disruptive struggle. Margery Kempe, at the age of twenty, had a troubling pregnancy and childbirth in which she thought her life would surely end. She did survive, and in the pursing months, and years had very intense spiritual encounters—even full conversations with Christ—that she describes at length in “The Book of Margery Kempe,” which is considered the first autobiography in the English language.
Margery Kempe was born in Lynn in the region of Norfolk (north of Cambridge) along the North Sea. She was the daughter of the mayor, part of the urban business class. She was functionally illiterate and her autobiography was entirely dictated to scribes. Her book was lost from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, and renewed interest in her work comes both because she was a woman describing life in England, and because most of the other medieval female voices are nuns, beguines, or women otherwise linked to monastic life. In her book she describes pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Roman, Germany, and Santiago de Compostela on the Camino, almost as if she is describing the travel itinerary of Kenilworth Union Church (or maybe rather we’ve been following her travel itinerary unbeknownst to us). In her quest for spiritual guidance, she visited Julian of Norwich, who encouraged her mystical path.
The prayer below carries gratitude for all things, even tribulations as if she is looking back over her life and remembering the way she has been brought through. Unlike Psalm 22, which is an urgent immediate cry for help in crisis, this prayer seems to see from a distance the rhythms of pain and pleasure, sickness and health as part and parcel of life, and thus gratitude to Christ for life must include not just the beautiful but the distressing, exhausting, embarrassing, formidable seasons of life.
Prayer from the Mystics: Margery Kempe (1373–1438)
Lord Christ Jesus,
I thank you for all health and all wealth,
for all riches and all poverty,
for sickness and all scorn,
for all humiliations and all wrongdoings,
and for all various tribulations
that have befallen
or shall befall me
as long as I live.