Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Faith in midwinter

She: What happened to Psalm 88? Why did you skip it?
He: I didn't think you could take it tonight. I'm not sure I could. No: I'm sure I could not.
She: Please read it, for me.
He: All right:

...cry out in the night before thee...
For my soul is full of troubles...
Thou has put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep
She: I need that kind the most.

In that midnight exchange, though its author did not yet know it, this book, A Cry of Absence, was beginning to be conceived. (See pp 88ff.)

In the little exchange above, "she" was Elsa, whom I married forty years before this second edition of a book occasioned by her illness (pp 161-62) and her death (p 39), and who died a dozen years ago. I had agreed, through the seasons of her terminal illness, to take turns with her reading a biblical psalm at the time of each midnight taking of medication. The medicines were pain relievers, fighters against nausea, palliatives. Half the psalms were not.

I had agreed to read the even-numbered and she the odd-numbered psalms. But after a particularly wretched day's bout that wracked her body and my soul, I did not feel up to reading Psalm 88. She noticed that. After the conversation I have recorded here, we continued to speak, slowly and quietly, in the bleakness of midnight but in the warmth of each other's presence and in awareness of the Presence.

We agreed that often the starkest scriptures were the most credible signals of the Presence and came in the worst times. When life gets down to basics, of course one wants the consoling words, the comforting sayings, the voices of hope preserved on printed pages. But they make sense only against the background of, and interplay with, the dark words.

M. Marty, A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart (Wipf & Stock 2009), xi-xii.

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