Out of the Depths

This is a sermon I prepared for Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor this morning on Psalm 130. The video above is from Facebook Live. If you have any challenges accessing the video in this post, feel free to go here.

I begin by reading Psalm 130. (I also set this Psalm to music if you’d like to hear it here).

Psalm 130 (New Revised Standard Version)

A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Out of the depths….

Out of the depths… from the depths… from feelings… from longings… from confusion… from situations so difficult we don’t know how to put them into words… from our minds… from our hearts… from our bodies… from our deepest selves… deepest selves that often don’t have words or firm definitions either…

Out of the depths — from these depths — we cry to you, O Lord.

And psalm says, “Lord, hear my voice.”

God Beyond Us,
God Within Us,
God Around Us,
God Larger Than Us,
God That Finds Our Story, even our hidden stories without words,

Hear the voice we don’t even know how to voice.

Please find it with us.

Find our voices, give them expression, and place them together.

This is a psalm of lament, and this is a psalm of hope.

It’s interesting that these often find their way together. Lament and hope often accompany each other during difficult times. I appreciate something that my friend Marcia Detrick once wrote. She says,

“Lament and hope are not opposites. Nor are they mutually exclusive.

“In my heart and life, lament and hope often co-exist very peacefully as friendly companions to one another.

“There may be pressure to accelerate our grieving, and to put boundaries around our lament.

“But my lament is grounded in hope, in a belief that the world could be better, should be better, and has the real potential to actually become better.

“The shared lament of others over the last few days has brought me great comfort and great hope.

And she closes with these words,

“If ever we stop lamenting evil, all hope will truly be lost.”

There are times when we need to lament, and there are times when we need the lament-song of others, even if it is wordless. There are times when we need to hope, and there are times when we need the hope-song of others, even if it is wordless.

Can we sing songs of lament and hope, even without words? Can some part of us be expressed and heard deep down, even in silence?

Our bodies do it all the time. And we are living a time of collective trauma. In times of trauma, our bodies and our collective embodied life find ways to cry out.

And perhaps in ways we can’t fully articulate, God, the Ground of All Being, God the Love Beyond and Within All Things, hears these voiceless-voices and even enables us to hear one another. So we lament together and hope in one another too.

In the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 130 is grouped together with a number of other psalms, and these are called Songs of Ascent. As pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem for three annual festivals, they traveled upward into the higher elevation of the city. These Songs of Ascent have been important songs of collective worship. In this Psalm, we encounter one voice crying from the depths, but we also hear a voice beckoning the voices of all of Israel — “Oh, Israel, hope in the Lord,” — the psalmist invites, “for with the Lord there is steadfast love.” This upholds and serves as a foundation for all things, even during our times in the depths. Especially our times in the depths.

And so we bring our voices today,

Our feelings… our longings… our confusion… our situations so difficult we don’t know how to put them into words…. our minds… our hearts… our bodies… our deepest selves… our deepest selves that don’t often, have words or firm definitions either…

Out of the depths — from these depths — we each cry out,

“Lord, hear my voice,”

And as we do this in so many ways, And as we do this in our own vulnerability,

We might hear each other’s voices too — even the ones below the surface, even the ones in the depths.

Even in social distancing and quarantine, we might be gathered together, and we might encourage one another in lament and hope alike.

And when we lament together, when we find ourselves heard, we might find hope in that kind of experience. We find our neighbors in that kind of experience. We find love in that kind of experience.

For many years, I have shared a phrase with a dear person in my life. Perhaps we’ve been saying it back and forth to one another for an entire decade.

“The mystery of goodness,” we say. We use this phrase in a variety of ways.

“I didn’t expect that at all. It was the mystery of goodness.”

“See, you’re worth it! The mystery of goodness.”

“Just try it. You’ll be surprised. It will show up. The mystery of goodness.”

Each time, our phrase has addressed the ways that life often hands us unexpected gifts of connection, meaning, and purpose.

Our phrase has not always been spoken in moments of joy and surprise. More often, we’ve spoken this phrase to one another when life experiences have been painful and hard – sometimes overwhelmingly so.

Our phrase has never been a pithy saying between us. Instead, we allow it to speak to realities that are deep, grief-filled, and challenging. That’s because our phrase is not ultimately a phrase. It is a way of viewing the world.

We have encouraged each other, daring to speak, daring to cry out, and daring to believe – sometimes when it felt nearly impossible to do so – that despite the losses and injustices of the world, and despite the losses and injustices in our own lives, goodness comes too. And in the end, though we lament, we hope this goodness will see us through.

We hope…
that love and life have the ultimate say,
… that goodness has the ultimate say,
… that connection, meaning, and purpose have the ultimate say,
and the ultimate claim upon our lives.

Despite the pain we feel and the pain we know, we hope that life also turns on the mystery of goodness, and
We are loved into life.

Let me be clear here: This is not pithy. We are talking about something challenging. This way of viewing the world is the hard-wrought work of having hope when nearly all feels lost. At times, we all need to invite others to hold out this kind of hope for us because we cannot begin to believe it for ourselves.

And it’s for good reason: In our lives and in the lives of our communities, we have experienced death, trauma, abuse, depression, war, racism, addiction, unemployment, divorce, poverty, other forms of loss and injustice, and now, a pandemic. That is unprecedented.

This is hard work. It is challenging at times to believe in the mystery of goodness. But we are all invited to hope even just a little more. We are invited to lean into that hope so much, in fact, that we help bring goodness into the world and into the lives of one another.

This morning, I find myself reflecting upon the mystery of goodness, wondering if it might be revealed in our voices — even the voices that are internal, deep, and hidden. When we cry out in lament, I wonder if the mystery of goodness can come to accompany us too.

Can we allow ourselves to hope for one another?

Can we turn that hope toward others who cannot possibly see the light at the end of the tunnel for themselves and those they love?

This is not pithy. It is a way of viewing the world, and It is hard work.

And so,
-To the friends who have lost multiple family members in one year,
-To the friends who are in the throes of depression,
-To the friends who are homeless and regularly skipping meals,
-To the friends who are divorcing,
-To the friends who are incarcerated,
-To the friends facing terminal illnesses,
-To the friends losing sleep in a pandemic,

With our many voices, we do not diminish your pain.

We enter it, and with love,
We hope for you.We hope the unexpected gifts of life made new. We hope the Mystery of Goodness.

“Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord,” we dare to utter .

“Lord, hear my voice!”

In that cry, may we also hear one another.

Renee Roederer

A Musical Setting of Psalm 130 — Renee Roederer

ocean public domain

Image Description: The sun shines low on the horizon over a dark ocean. Public Domain.

Many years ago, I set Psalm 130 to music for congregational singing. On Sunday, this psalm will be read as part of the Revised Common Lectionary. These words seem so fitting for the emotions of these days.

An audio recording is above, and the psalm text is listed below.

Psalm 130 (New Revised Standard Version)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
   Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

Loved in Limitation

loved
Image Description: “You are Loved” is written in chalk on a street.

Have you ever felt loved in limitation?

I’m not talking about failure, though we certainly need love and grace when it comes to that.

I mean limitation. I mean receiving love precisely in the place that feels personally challenging. Accepted fully as you are. Cared for in the unique particularity of your being, including what may be difficult.

That’s when vulnerability and connection become very sacred. That’s when they become very transformative.

Renee Roederer

Choosing Hope

hope

Image Description: The word ‘hope’ is written in some sand. Public domain image.

Sometimes, I don’t know exactly what to do, except to just…. choose hope.

This is intentional; this is hard work. Sometimes it feels just right. Sometimes, it feels foolish. It’s not something that I would place upon a person or community when they’re feeling down or reasonably afraid. That’s insensitive and harmful. But when we can choose it (sometimes, we can’t, but sometimes, we can) it can help others do the same.

Yesterday, I looked through my social media feeds and saw big fears. The news cycle is very difficult. Staying home is difficult. People are wondering how these things will leave lasting impacts upon their lives and the lives of people they love. People are feeling all the stories and the warnings, and along with them, a sense of helplessness.

So we might have to look to where we can to find hope, maybe even unexpectedly.

I recently re-read some beautiful words  that M Barclay posted on social media during a different time a few years ago. These words feel relevant to this collective moment too. They said it so much better than I can, so I want to leave you with their words:

“I know so many incredible humans who are strong and brave and tender and creative and smart – and who are committed to collective transformation. I believe in them/you.

“I believe in the witness of the saints who were taken from the world because of their commitments to justice but still left us with words that inspire and speak truths and remind us that none of this is new, really. Their impact lingers and invites.

“I believe in what I call God – which is the Spirit of Love and Mystery and Compassion and Courage that permeates everything that is and that is always but a breath away in even the hardest most awful places. And I believe this has existed always and will continue to exist always and no one can do anything to stop that.

“I believe in our collective ability to provide for each other – to tend to one another’s needs in various ways. To create care and support and swap resources and hold each other up. Everyone has something vital to offer to the whole.

“I believe in the power of protest which is also a kind of prayer. I believe in imagination and the importance of dreaming our future into being. I believe in refusing to allow the horrors before us to be normalized while also believing in the importance of continuing to tend to the ordinary.

“I believe, collectively, we are capable of getting through this time together – even if it gets worse. We have already lost some. We will lose more. And this is horrific and unacceptable and the grief weighs so heavy. We must honor all of that deeply while not letting it keep us from doing the best we can to keep more loss at bay. And more people of privilege need to be willing to give up more for the sake of others. And I believe some will.

“I know this is exactly what some people want – the situation before us. But I also believe in those who don’t – those for whom protecting each other, and seeking wholeness, and calling for accountability of corrupt power, and tending sweetly and fiercely to one another’s souls in the midst of destruction are what life is about.

“I don’t know much else but I know I believe in these things. And even in the depths of despair at the situation we find ourselves in today, that’s enough to keep on. And we need everyone to keep on. If you are struggling, maybe take some time to write out what you believe in – something you can return to when you’re not sure about anything else?”

When you can, choose hope.

When you can’t, look for those who can.

We’ll keep trading off, hoping for each other.

Renee Roederer

Steadfast Love

hearts

Image Description: Three thin, wood-carved hearts. One is red, one is orange, and one is green. They are hanging from wires.

Years ago, at a conference, I heard someone voice a phrase right before a prayer. I’m reminding myself of this again. It’s a simple statement and a beautiful reframing.

The leader said,

“We are held in a love we are not required to deserve.”

Oh, that’s so good, I thought.

Have you ever felt that before? Love you’re not required to deserve? Love given freely and abundantly? Has it ever surprised you? Relieved you? Empowered you?

We’ve probably heard messaging before that says, “You are loved, even though you don’t deserve it.” But this is saying something different, better, and deeper. “We are held in a love we are not required to deserve.” Deservedness is off the table, truly not required. We are loved because we are. Because we exist. Because we belong. Because… well, there is no because (at least not a deserved or earned one). Period.

If that phrase needs to reach us in any part of our lives, or any parts of ourselves, or any parts of our self-understanding, I hope we can receive it as true.

“We are held in a love we are not required to deserve.”

Renee Roederer

Intention Words

love

Image Description: A fountain pen is lying on a piece of paper. The word Love is written in cursive in blue ink.

Perhaps there’s a word that keeps emerging for you. It might want your attention. It might want to be felt, or expressed, or acted upon.

Or if nothing comes to mind immediately, maybe we can ask for it: If we quiet ourselves down and ask for what we need, a word might arrive or even cry out in our thinking or feeling.

How can this word be a framework for this challenging time we’re living? This week? This day? Right at this moment? A word to be felt, or expressed, or acted upon?

Over the weekend, folks from my family chose these words:

Fun
Joy
Resilience
Return
Create
Clarity
Calm
Compassion
Energy
Focus

And each day, we each take a moment to think, ponder, pray, envision, or energize those words for each other. We hope these words for each other.

What would you choose? What word do you need?

How can we think, ponder, pray, envision, or energize that word for you?

Feel free to share your word.

Renee Roederer

 

Finding the Intersection of Calling

Smuggling Grace

Image Description: A busy street intersection with crosswalks, street lights, buildings, and pedestrians.

I find Frederick Buechner to be an especially quotable author. He just has so many good things to say, and over the years, I’ve passed on a lot of his words to people. In particular, I’ve shared this quote with a lot of college students who are doing vocational discernment:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

This is a statement that is helpful to college students and young adults who are pondering vocation and calling. But also, whatever our age, we’re continually discerning these things all the time. Perhaps this framing is particularly important in this moment we’re living, this consideration of where deep gladness and deep need meet.

The needs and injustices around us are enormous, and we may be grappling with…

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