One thing that I love about the Psalms is that they are emotionally raw—an unedited account of the human experience. At times, David eloquently praises God, overcome with gratitude and joy. Other times, he is full of doubt and frustration. And then there are times when he asks God to kill his enemies and bash his enemies' children's heads against rocks. The Psalms challenge me to experience the depth and range of my emotions and to then move through those emotions so that I can experience how I might be transformed by doubt and suffering and hope. Also, I have learned that if I do not adequately process and digest the confusing things that I feel, I am more likely to transmit my unprocessed pain onto others. This post includes three spoken word poems that move from anger to sadness to doubt, eventually arriving at the hope and mystery of Christ. I wrote these on my way to and from Connecticut this past week. Though some of it is personal (direct pain), most of it is my attempt to reckon with the pain of those who are close to me and those who are victims of abuse in this world (indirect pain). And some of the stanzas are written in first person from the perspective of someone else. Basically what I'm saying is that, even if you know me, you will have no idea what I am talking about in these writings.
I was inspired to write something like this because of a train that goes by my townhouse every morning blaring its horn, which seemed to be a metaphor for how I, too, return to the same emotional places and am challenged to keep moving through them like a train, though I am sometimes screaming from within. In writing them, I am giving myself permission to feel whatever I might be feeling and encouraging myself to plunge into the messiness and beauty of my interior life. I hope this is a permission slip for you to do the same.
The other day in church, one of our co-pastors shared a quote that read, "Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted." In some senses, to fully feel is part of being fully alive. My tendency was always to suppress any emotion that was foreign to me, but now I am convinced that these unfamiliar spaces have the ability to transform my soul. As the famous hymn says, "It is well with my soul"—but I've learned that this prayer means more when I have explored all that is not okay.
PART I Go wear your cloak of religion, but know the savior wore no cloak. No child can condemn. No child judges men. You think that you are justified with your narrow Christianity and your Scripture on a string, with your idolatrous puppeteering and the praise songs you sing. But we can see that you're playing the game. If you shout a little louder, will it hide your doubt? If you point the finger, does it keep the gun from your mouth? I don't fit your categories, and you squirm in your seat. Pro-life, black lives. LGBT affirming. Go hide behind your 2nd amendment rights. Point the gun and pull the trigger. But there's no hiding the murder. No child can condemn. No child buys a gun.
Go wear your cloak of innocence,
but know the innocent need no cloak.
No child saves for jewels.
No savior serves a fool.
You think that you can fool me
with your stupid freaking jokes
and your fake flashy glasses,
with your television fame
and your Hollywood fashion.
But we can see that you're playing the game.
Do you really think you can hide on a stage?
If they chant your name will it hide your shame?
Money and power, followers and fame—
like Trump and Bill, you have no name.
Go hide in your songs that you play.
Mask your crimes with shoddy humor.
God knows that you're a pervert.
No child saves for jewels.
No child needs a lawyer. Go wear your cloak of intelligence though the God-man wore no gown. No child starts debate. No child is a Calvinist. You think that you can fool me with your lofty prayers, your sword, and your ego, a shield, with your helmet of salvation for your pride's battlefield. But we can see that you're playing the game. If you always have an answer, does it help you win? If you diagnose others, does it hide your sin? Absolutes and explanations, you choke the divine. No need to transform if you've already arrived. Go hide in the Word of Pride. Mask it all with your wall of degrees that God calls the "wall of insecurity." No child starts debate. No infant cares to win.
PART II The train comes by each day at five, and it wakes me from my sleep. It blares its horn into my walls, but today I'm already awake. There's no song for cursed captivity, so my soul shouts beneath the train. Hello again old friend, aren't we both just on the clock? We revisit the same spaces. We move forward then return. The journey is always different, but the destination is the same. The train comes by at seven, and I'm still wide awake. I'd like to hear your horn again, so we can suffer all the same. To most you are a nuisance, but your wake-up cry is mine. All is night when you sleep in the light.
PART III I threw a brick from the bridge when my friend was driving by. He asked me why from his bedside, and I revealed the intricacies of my plan, how the pain would bring us closer, how the suffering would make us stronger, how I loved him beyond all measure, enough to bring him to surrender. And now I'm in the psych ward surrounded by walls of bricks. I took my child to the candystore and watched the man walk in. He said he needed a companion then took my child by the hand. Authorities found the tapes peculiar, how I consciously turned my back how I allowed this sick transaction, how I enabled the attack. And now I'm his companion in the courtyard, wearing matching clothes. Do You really have a plan, some road map, some knowing? Do You really allow the terror, as if blind to the suffering? If the plan is to prosper, not to harm, then what about the slave? If You allowed the Holocaust, do they curse you from their graves? Am I supposed to believe that you'd shape my life but neglect the refugee, that you'd hear my cry but turn a deaf ear to missionaries? Yes? No? Maybe? I call myself a mystic, but I'm again creating categories, thinking words can somehow capture that which cannot be attained, thinking I can find a formula for that which cannot be explained. Maybe we find You on the fringes, in the heartbreak, in the storm,
when we're forced to start all over,
when we're broken to the core, in the dying breaths and helpless cries,
in grave unrest and last goodbyes, when faith and doubt and grace collide, in this mystery of union. The suffering savior takes a knee to wash my feet and smile.
By Stephen Copeland
This blog was first published on copelandwrites.com.