The adult Sunday School class at my church has been doing a 12-week study by Eugene Peterson entitled Psalms: Prayers of the Heart. Each week we read a different Psalm and discuss its possible influences on a life of prayer. Some of the lesson titles have been Psalm 3: Praying our Trouble; Psalm 103: Praying our Salvation; and Psalm 23: Praying our Fear. This Sunday’s lesson was Psalm 137: Praying our Hate. At first glance one might question the title. Is that a typo? Did she really just say that? Can we really pray our hate? Those familiar with the Psalm, however, know that this psalm is not pretty. It is a prayer that brings out the worst in us: vile, venomous, vicious hate. Can God really handle our hate?
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
7 Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy are those who repay you
according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy are those who seize your infants
and dash them against the rocks.
This Psalm was written while the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. They endured much suffering there and witnessed the deaths of their children. They wanted vengeance and hurled their anger at God. We often look at the Psalms to provide us with words of comfort or longing in our relationship with the Holy One, but this Psalm is anything but comforting! It is downright violent. Psalms and prayers like this make us uncomfortable. We would rather put on our “Sunday best” in our prayers and present ourselves in such a way that God will be pleased with us. In order to be authentic, however, we need to be honest and be who we actually are, not who we think we should be. (God knows what is on our hearts, anyway. J). We are often afraid to convey our true emotions to God because we fear that God will be angry or no longer love us. Yet from my own experience I have discovered that when I express my real and raw emotions to God, the level of intimacy with my Creator deepens because I am actually trusting God with the “real” me. And it’s OK. God can handle it.
Most of my parishioners believe that we’re only suppose to say nice things to God, we’re not suppose to express anger, disappointment, or disagreement. I preached once on the importance of honest communication with God and how it is necessary for maintaining a healthy, mutual relationship. I suggested that they can work their way up to full disclosure with God by praying psalms aloud that express what they feel and that this will help them gain confidence at expressing themselves fully. It never occured to them that they were being dishonest with God when they held back their true feelings.