Saturday, June 28, 2014

God After Midnight (Psalm 89:46-52)

How long, Lord? will you hide yourself forever?
     How long will your wrath burn life fire?
Remember how fleeting is my life.
     For what futility you have created all humanity!
Who can live and not see death,
     or who can escape the power of the grave?
Lord, where is your former great love,
     which in your faithfulness you sword to David?
Remember, Lord how your servant has been mocked,
     how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations,
the taunts with which your enemies, Lord, have mocked,
     with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one.
Praise be to the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen.
Psalm 89:46-52 (NIV)

One of my guilty pleasures is ABBA. I enjoy their music and even own a copy of the movie Mama Mia. One song particularly stays with me, Give Me, Give Me, Give Me. The end of the chorus is rather simple, "Give me, give me, give me a man after midnight. Take me through the darkness to the break of the day." In spite of what one might think about this song running around in a gay man's head that is not why the song remains with me. Instead, through the twists of my life journey the lyrics morphed a bit and became, "Give me, give me, give me a God after midnight." This morphing has helped me to understand that while the God of light is dazzling and fantastic, it is the God of shadows which attracts my spiritual interest. Now to be sure it is the one and same Sacred Reality - even the scriptures attest that God is lord of both day and night. 

This Psalm invites us into the shadows of uncertainty and angst. "How long God? Will you hide yourself forever? (v. 44). Instead of the Promised Land, the psalmist has found the shadowlands. Groping in darkness, hands are extended with the hope that something solid will emerge out of the swirling mists. But all that is found is the disappointment of shadows folding into shadows. 

The sculpture by Ana Maria Pacheco is not a queer themed work of art. Rather it is a political themed work. The artist, now residing in the UK, is originally from Brazil and the piece represents the experience of the Brazilian death squads of the 1970s. Says Patricia Vieira in her book Seeing Politics Otherwise, while reviewing this and other works by Latina/Latino artists, "The experience of torture also lies beyond the mediation of interpretation, and the trauma resulting from the victims non-mediated encounter with reality does not lend itself to symbolic deciphering." In short, one can never make "sense" out of torture. 

Pacheco's sculpture cannot be interpreted even as it fails to interpret the reality to which it points. By what words or images can we relay the terror of indifference that leads to brutality and death? How could we ever explore the inner dialogue of the victim as her/his life is viewed as expendable? Can we, or should we seek to plumb the thought process of those who kill indiscriminately? We could try, but in the end we will fail. Only our own personal encounter with such reality can help us understand. 

All queer people wrestle with the issue of how to interpret or mediate our experience to straight people. In some way we will always fail for our experience lies beyond what can be shared as no word or symbol can carry the full load of what it means to be sexually and gender diverse in a heteronormative world. As we observe the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots we can understand that those gathered acted out, because speaking up could not help "decipher" the experience of oppression. 

This becomes more problematic for queer people of faith as we seek to share our stories in what has traditionally been heteronormative houses of worship. From such worship centers the label of "sinner" has been (and in some cases still is) used to torture all those who do not conform. Our spiritual landscape of the shadowlands lies beyond interpretation. Those who have experienced the underbelly of faith can talk to each other, but those who have not tend to scratch their heads and pass over such spiritual reality as less than faithful. I find it interesting that our psalmist simply ends the psalm without any resolution. "They have mocked every step of your Messiah (anointed one)" is abruptly followed by "Praise be to the Lord forever," as if the psalmist realizes the futility of seeking to explain the shadowlands of faith. 

William James, the father of American psychology and a deeply spiritual person in his own right, described this dynamic as being either "once-born" or "twice-born." The once-born are those for whom God is the parent who keeps them safe and from harm. No concerns have ever arisen to shake their faith. The twice-born are those for whom God is no longer the almighty parent. Twice-born people have wrestled with disappointment in God to find a deeper and more penetrating faith. God, for the twice-born, is One who walks with them through the shadows of a less than perfect life. Or to misquote ABBA, the "God after midnight."