The Old and the New

Psalm 118:24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Old Testament scholar, Walter Bruggeman, wrote that the Psalms mirror the seasons of our lives.  There are times when God is in heaven and all is right in the world.  We understand who we are and our place in the order of things.  Dr. Bruggeman called Psalms written during these times, Psalms of orientation.

Psalm 6:3. My whole body is completely terrified!
        But you, Lord! How long will this last?

Then something happens and our world is changed – a loved one dies, we lose a job, a medical diagnosis is bad news, a pandemic shuts down the world around us.  Psalms written during a time such as this are called Psalms of disorientation.  We wonder where God is and how this could have happened.  This is when we cry out to heaven “How long will this last?”  How long will we be sad?  How long will we be afraid?  How long will we be anxious?  How long will we be weary?

We want to go back to “normal.”   We want things to go back to the way it was before.

Psalm 98:1. Sing to the Lord a new song because he has done wonderful things! His own strong hand and his own holy arm have won the victory!

Dr. Bruggeman reminds us that going back is impossible.  The world will never be exactly the same again.  But the Psalms also remind us that because we cannot go back does not mean that we cannot go forward.  The future can never be the same as the past but it can be good.  We can adjust to the new normal and be happy again.  Palms written as we begin to move into this new future are called Palms of re-orientation.  We remember that God is still with us through all the times of our lives – the good, the bad, and the new!

I have used this philosophical/theological approach to life in counseling.  In the beginning, people resist.  I remember one man who had lost his job.  He kept saying I want my old job back.  I would patiently respond, I understand but that is not going to happen, so what can we do to go forward to make life good for you again.  We would make a list of things that he could do to look for another job, to stay busy, to stay connected, and to bring him joy.  At the end of the session, when we were going through the list, he would once again state, “I just want my old job back!”  This went on for several weeks.  Finally, when he began to work his list, one thing at a time, his situation began to change.  He found another job that he loved and he made new friends.  In fact, his attitude toward life changed so much that, as with many of the people I have counseled over the years, our sessions became fewer and fewer until I never saw him again.

We are never going back to life before this virus but we are going forward to a life that will be good.  Hopefully we are taking into our new life, the things that we have learned over the last two months like how important family and friends are to our emotional, spiritual and even physical wellbeing.  Like the miracles that occur when we begin to think about the needs of others over our own wants.  Like how wonderful technology can be in staying connected.  Like taking time to appreciate the simple pleasures in life – a walk on a sunny day, playing with our kids or pets, or an afternoon nap!

Most of all, hopefully we have taken time to deepen our relationship with the one who is with us in the good times, the boring times, the heartbreaking times, and is already creating something new!