By: Nan Smith
Psalm 57: 1 (NRSV)
“Be merciful to me, O God, be
merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I
will take refuge,
until the destroying storms
It was my first year of seminary and it was the year my marriage was crumbling to pieces. It was also the year my clergy mentor for ministry became very ill and ended up leaving the church. It was a tough year.
And within that year, there was the week when multiple papers were due for my classes—papers that were not writing well. I was hunkered down and praying for some inspiration, while trying to stay warm on a day of bitterly cold temperatures and strong northwest winds. My golden retriever had no concern for my plight as she danced in front of me—bouncing up and down in anticipation of a walk in the woods. Her brown eyes held that curious mix of anticipation, pleading, and I suppose condemnation when I didn’t instantly respond.
Finally, I gave in…
Seriously, I was in need of an attitude adjustment, as within my soul there was a howling lament against all the broken pieces I was experiencing in my life. And so, I don parka, hat, gloves, scarf, and boots for the walk I didn’t really want to take and my golden retriever ran in circles around me.
Oh, to have that much energy…
The cold air caught in my lungs and the snow offered that familiar crunch that comes with cold temperatures. My dog and I trudged through the winter woods—myself muttering under my breath the whole way. “Why can’t life be easier? What was I thinking deciding to go to seminary? I don’t know what I’m doing? I’m so sick of writing papers!” When I reached the creek that meandered through the woods, I stopped and yelled to the listening woods and to God “If you want me to do this—why can’t you just make things easier?”
Silence engulfed me…
Then I heard the whisper breathiness of the high-pitched twitter of the cedar waxwing. This bird has a sleek plumage, light brown with a yellow belly. It is a crested bird with a striking black patch around its eyes and the tip of the tail looks as though it has been dipped into bright yellow nail polish. Looking towards the direction of the call, I was startled to see 44 cedar waxwings (yes, I counted them) crowded together on a small branch. They were nestled tightly, balls of fluffed feathers, each helping the other to stay warm.
God’s answer to my lament?
My friend was not impressed when I shared my story about the branch of birds. His remark was “You beg for help and all God gives you is a bunch of birds?” Of course, he didn’t have my naturalist heart. A branch full of birds huddled against killing cold, was exactly what I needed. A bunch of birds, able to survive by leaning into the strength and warmth of each other, knowing they couldn’t make it just on their own, spoke volumes.
It takes a community …
For the exiles, I’m sure they could have lifted up a similar lament to mine. Why can’t things be easier? Jesus and the disciples, their voices crushed by Roman oppression, could have echoed that same sentiment. It could be the cry from the victims of racism and the frustrations of a denomination put on hold. It could be the longings that emerge as we struggle through this season of COVID-19 and it certainly could be lifted up in response to the deep polarization found within our country. It could be the lament of the painful disconnectedness that seeps into the very life of our churches at this time.
O God, give us courage in this waiting…
This is a difficult time, this time of waiting for life to be different. Unlike the exiles, who had a tangible community to lean into, I often feel a deep weariness in my soul because community is not as present as I would like or need. I long to sit with others at the table enjoying the substance of shared life—laughing together, weeping together, embracing together, railing together, and praying together.
In this season of Lent, I am leaning into lament…it is part of my walk towards Easter.