Recently I heard the modern-day prophet and poet Walter Brueggemann speak about the Psalms. He said before we can receive the counter-world offered us in the Psalms, we have to speak the truth about the world we live in. And that is a world characterized by, among other things, greed, anxiety, amnesia, and despair. We have to tell the truth, Brueggemann suggests, to be willing to say it straight up: “It’s not working for me.”
This strikes a deep chord with me. Brueggemann named something I’ve been struggling to articulate as I look around me at so many people I know facing uncertain finances, exhaustion, vocational upheaval, and nearly debilitating anxiety. While a generation past could count on stable jobs for decades, it feels lucky now to have one that lasts more than five years. Even for hard-working middle-class folks, it’s becoming a less-achievable dream to own a home or put kids through college. And yet every day we wake up again, go to jobs, run around busy as anything, trying to deny these truths or ignore them because what choice do we have? No wonder despair is the end of it all.
It’s not working for me. I am tired of pretending it is.
When I reach out to that most ancient prayer book for comfort, I struggle to believe, as Brueggemann told us, we need not inhabit this world we are given, that every time we do so much as read a psalm we are engaging in a subversive action, holding on to the hope of a world of abundance where a table is spread and all are welcome, where Yahweh is every faithful in spite of change everywhere, where all the world is not on its way to hopelessness and despair but to renewal and shalom and newness of life. I reach out for that world with eagerness, with desperation; sometimes I can believe in that world, but sometimes I cannot.
It’s been a week or so since I heard Brueggemann and as I sit with his words, the thing I remember most is the palpable relief I felt deep in my soul at hearing someone say, “It’s not working. Of course it’s not. You’re not crazy for wishing it were otherwise. It’s not working.” Wherever we want to go next, I'm certain that is the point to begin.
Maybe it is truth-telling itself that holds the key. Maybe not until the truth is told does the door begin to open to the counter-world that all our hearts are longing for.