Why, my soul, are you downcast?

On Tuesday I woke up about 3:00am and never really got back to sleep. As I lay there awake, I felt surrounded, both literally and figuratively by the darkness of the night. I was in a constant loop of worries and anxieties until my alarm went off at 6:00am.

I had a lot on my mind, really on my soul. This time of year at Manna House, due to the cold, we switch from being in the backyard for serving coffee and generally hanging out with our guests, to being in the house. This is never an easy transition. The house becomes crowded, sometimes chaotic. Guests who struggle to be in close proximity to others, get anxious and sometimes act harshly toward those who get too close.

The move indoors means winter is coming. On Monday morning guests had asked me about the weather forecast for the week. So both they and I knew the forecast for rain and cold. Part of my worries in the night were about our guests who do not have shelter. Some of my anxiety was sharing their anxiety about what the change of season means for being on the streets. There is anxiety about getting warmer clothes, hats, gloves, blankets, coats. My anxiety on this night included wondering how we are going to meet those needs. And behind all these anxieties is a deeper anxiety. Will someone on the streets, perhaps someone we know, freeze to death this winter? Death from the cold comes almost every winter.

I also mulled over the hatred toward people experiencing homelessness, which makes providing housing and other basic necessities controversial.  I know it is a hatred fed by a banquet of racism, an individualistic culture of competition, fear of strangers, and a false sense of scarcity. And in these days, this banquet of hatred is served up by people in the highest offices of the land, including the presidency. Trump and his followers revel in the denial of human dignity for people in poverty—including people on the streets, and people of any color other than white, people of any nationality other than “white American.” My soul was bedeviled by how many of Trump’s followers are people who claim the Christian faith, who believe Trump is divinely authorized, despite his disdain for the poor, the very ones Jesus said are blessed.

When I got to Manna House on Tuesday morning, slightly groggy from the long night, I turned to Psalm 43.

Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.

The psalm seemed to have been written for this day in its analysis of the present realities, “an unfaithful nation,” “those who are deceitful and wicked.” And though I wished those words did not apply to me as well, the psalm implied that I, too, have done something wrong that warrants God’s rejection. I am not immune from the sins of racism, self-righteousness, fears grounded in insecurity, and worries about scarcity.

You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?

Given the signs of the times and my own brokenness, the psalm then offered exactly what I need in my life:

Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

If the psalm had stopped there perhaps I would have been good. I would simply “let go and let God.” But the psalm as the word of God did not end on such a sappy, superficial, “Don’t worry, be happy” false note. No psalm, no prayer, magically ends the realities that caused my anxieties that troubled me in the night.

Those realities go on, and they require my attention and my resistance. If I am to follow Jesus I have to take up the cross. I have to go against the death-dealing meanness of our culture and our economy and our political life. And I have to struggle against the misshapen desires of my own heart. Neither of those realities is going away anytime soon.

So the psalm ends with hardness intertwined with hope.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise God,
my Savior and my God.

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