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When Tears are Your Brine

Thanksgiving week is upon us. The turkeys are thawing, the foil industry is booming, and families are preparing their homes and hearts for Thursday. As we stir our gravies and sauces, the holiday season has a way of stirring our hearts. For some that stirring kicks up fond memories of the past and bright hopes for the future; however, for others, the holiday happiness stirs up painful memories and serves as a stinging reminder that the future looks bleak.

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An Ancient Poetic Pathway to Hope
If tears are your soul’s brine, know that you are in good company. You are not alone. In fact, the Psalms are replete with accounts of honest cries of human pain unto God. The Sons of Korah, a band of ancient Israelite poets and artists, provide a helpful pattern of processing low seasons in the midst of high holidays in Psalm 42.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise; a multitude keeping festival. Psalm 42:3-4.

The writer remembers having once been among the happy throngs, leading the procession in singing and making merry as they approached the house of God for the feast days. But those days and their accompanying happy, hopeful sentiments seem far gone. The writer wrestles to remember God’s goodness  in the midst of deep suffering and pain. Warm feelings have fled, but he refuses to flee from God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls;  all your breakers and waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:5-8. 

The writer literally invites us into the alternating waves of hope and despondency he experiences moment by moment. Throughout the psalm, we ride the waves with him, sinking into the troughs of despair and then cresting with rolls of hope only to sink again.

Unlike Hallmark holiday movies, we are not left with a saccharine sweet glowing moment. Rather, the psalmist leaves us with his present pain and his future hope. His situation has not yet changed. He is not leading the holiday parade to the house of God. He remains wrestling, riding out the waves, anchoring his hope in the God he cannot  currently feel or see consistently.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11.

He gets through the holiday slump by pressing into a further future, even if the near future’s horizon doesn’t hold out much change or hope.

A Modern Poetic Pathway to Hope
In her sonnet Weariness, Elizabeth Barret Browning offers those seasoning their turkey with tears a similar poetic pathway.

Mine eyes are weary of surveying
The fairest things, too soon decaying;
Mine ears are weary of receiving
The kindest words  —  ah, past believing!
Weary my hope, of ebb and flow;
Weary my pulse of tunes of woe:
My trusting heart is weariest!
I would — I would, I were at rest!….

There is a land of rest deferr’d:
Nor eye has seen, nor ear hath heard,
Nor Hope hath trod the precint  o’er;
For Hope beheld its hope no more!
There,  human pulse forgets its tone
There, hearts may know  as they are known!
Oh,  for dove’s wings, thou dwelling blest,
To fly to thee, and be at rest!

The Christian’s hope, in holiday seasons or out of holiday seasons, on the heights or in the depths, is anchored in the person of Christ. He is the thrill of hope that makes the weary world rejoice still. He has died and risen, and He is coming again. The day when we see His face, He will wipe all traces of tears from our faces. That great eternal holiday will swallow up every other holiday.

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