The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Part II

All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

Thinking about hidden stories to be found in the genealogies of the Bible that I once thought boring (Part I) made me think about my own. Unexpectedly, I discovered research that someone else had done on my family’s ancestry. What a thrill when I opened a page full of the symbols of royal heraldry! Some ancestors were leaders and innovators and heroes. Some were not. I also found despots, drunks, and deadbeat dads.

Children are more perceptive than we realize. I picked up a sense of shame when I was a kid. Over time, I gathered clues to the unspoken story that leaked out in photo albums, overheard conversations, and hints like the fact my grandfather forbade the mention of his father’s name. Recently, with the help of archived newspapers online, I discovered the family fortunes took a drastic downturn after an incident of criminal negligence that resulted in the death of mothers, children, a fiancée, and shop workers heading home on Christmas eve. My great grandfather failed to attend to a safety matter on a tram system in a large eastern city. He was drunk. The family lost their big house, their wealth, and their status. Old photos no longer featured my grandfather as the child dressed in velvet and ruffles. He became the dirt darkened boy clad in worn overalls. Instead of the elegant brick house, his mother stood in front of an unpainted shack. Her husband was not with her.

My great grandfather’s father was the illegitimate son of someone with money in England who paid for him to go away. Like many others whose mere existence was an embarrassment, he was given cash and passage to the colonies when he was old enough. He wasn’t a good father either. When his wife died, he gave his children to someone else to raise.

We all carry inherited shame since our first forebearers chose to believe the serpent’s lies. Some are more aware of rejection and the mark of shame than others. In shame/honour societies like the culture of Biblical times, being kicked out of the tribe is the ultimate punishment. Until recently, western culture has been based on guilt and forgiveness. A person who has broken a law can be redeemed after anything from issuing an apology, or making restitution, to a fine, or serious jail time. It’s possible to come back after “paying his debt to society.” In a shame/honour society, there is no forgiveness, no yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree. There is only shunning.

One way to tell if you are still operating under the guilt/forgiveness system is if you find yourself being dismissed or “cancelled” and respond with, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!” In a shame/honour society you don’t have to be guilty of breaking any law to suffer rejection; you merely need to have said or done something that identifies you with other rejects. In this system once a person has “lost face,” especially in public, there is no coming back. In this system the outcasts didn’t just DO something wrong; they ARE something wrong – and so are their families and their dog.

But God’s plan for the outcasts is different.

Sometimes victims of injustice form new tribes like David and his Mighty Men – re-echoed in the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Those who band together often maintain a common sense of being shamed, but still long for vindication and restoration. Perhaps this is why the Sons of Korah still carried their identity as the descendants of a traitor. Perhaps David learned something from being on the run.  In the rocky terrain of the desert he took physically gifted rejects from society and turned them into a band of warriors fighting for justice. Perhaps this is why, after his vindication, he took a band of artistically gifted poets and musicians and gave them a public position back in the tent of worship.

But it takes more than a new job and fancy clothes to change how a person sees themselves. Psalm 42 reveals that the Sons of Korah still struggled with discouragement and shame and depression. This psalm is a cry of longing for personal revival. It begins:

 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Step one on the road back to a closer relationship with God is admitting that all is not well with one’s soul. It’s responding to the question “How’s that workin’ for ya?” with an honest assessment of, “Not very well. In fact, not well at all. I am consumed with longing to stop hiding in shame and walk with God again.”

Verse 4 says:

These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

We can be doing all the religious things but still feel like we’ve lost something. The joy of the Lord may feel illusive. We don’t want to stay like this.

Then the Sons of Korah take another step. They recognize their poverty of spirit but dare to hope. There is a moment between overwhelming waves of emotions of loss and despair when we start to take charge of them by declaring a truth we may not yet feel.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

But the struggle is real. It’s a life and death back and forth battle in the heart between old lies and new truths.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”

The psalm ends with an act of faith by choosing to do what God has made them for and a repetition of the declaration.

Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The journey back has begun.

By day the Lord directs his love. At night his song is with you, even if you can’t quite hear it yet.

When It Hurts

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Sharing the sufferings of Christ involves the experience of the deep emotions, agony, and passion he continues to experience for the least, the last, and the lost by his indwelling Spirit. All followers of Jesus were once least, last, and lost. When we forget that, we stop feeling.

– Dr. Mark Chironna

If I Ride the Wings of Morning

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Well, this was unexpected. Who knew I would spend my 63rd number-changing day (as my little granddaughter calls it) in the throes of puberty, or reverse menopause (I’m not sure what to call it).

I’m on short-term intense hormonal therapy to try to fix a girl problem, well, okay, an older lady problem. And that’s all I have to say about that (which is probably too much.)

The result is a person, already subject to strong emotions, now awash in feelings. Irritability is the most … irritating. Having giggle fits with my adolescent granddaughter (also awash in hormonal emotion) may be the most fun.

It’s temporary and I can hang on for a few more weeks as long as I avoid political bait and debate and my husband doesn’t do anything worthy of inciting a riot, like chewing his popcorn too loud at the movies or humming The Marseillaise in a minor key.

I’ve been thinking about emotion and it’s place in our lives. I wonder if emotion is the response our soul makes when its nerve endings are touched. Some areas of our souls seem to be more sensitive than others. Some people just seem to feel emotion more intensely than others. It’s like having a high or low pain/pleasure threshold.

Some emotional stimulation feels wonderful and some feels absolutely horrid. The temptation is to either become addicted to “feel-good” triggers, wallow in the feel-bad triggers, or shut them all off as much as possible.

Alas, in the way people without pain receptors tend to lose limbs, people without emotion receptors tend to lose chunks of their souls. Compassion is often the first to go.

I love the Psalms because they are full of intense emotion, yet grounded in the reality of God’s sovereignty. David and the other writers shamelessly express feelings, yet they eventually submit them to God’s perspective and will.

Emotions are like scouts who bring reports back to headquarters. They are vital, but don’t let them make the final decisions. They tend not to see the entire picture.

David writes about highs and lows and our tendency to lose sight of God in our running about.

Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit?
Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?

If I go up into heaven, You are there.
If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there.

If I ride on the wings of morning,
if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean,

Even then You will be there to guide me;
Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there.

Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
the light around me will soon be turned to night,”

You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes.
For You the night is just as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes.

For You shaped me, inside and out.
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath.

I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
Your works are wonderful;
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.

You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You

(Psalm 139: 7-15 The Voice)

Anyway, I just want to say on this day, that for all the pain and all the joy feeling intense emotion has brought me, thank You, Lord. You surround me and You ground me and You lift me up. Best of all You like what you created when You made me. Today, on my birthday, I celebrate You.




A kind person told me that feeling an emotion is like feeling thirsty. There is no shame in feeling thirsty. You might consider if anything unusual caused your thirst, or if you need to drop everything and get a drink, or if you can wait until the next convenient time to deal with it. Seldom do people say, “I’m so sorry. I really shouldn’t feel thirsty. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.” Thirst is.

We might consider the cause of an unexpected emotion, but we have the choice to deal with it right away or wait until the next convenient time –but we can’t ignore feelings forever. There is no need to say,”I’m so sorry. I really shouldn’t feel this way. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.” Feelings are.

Today I feel emotionally thirsty. I’ve been in a time of giving (freely and with joy because I absolutely love the people who needed my help) but today I am feeling tired and a bit, well, prunish. There are scattered piles of requests for attention all over my house. The urgent has been attended to, but I’m not putting this off anymore, so dust, emails, laundry, lesson plans, and call back messages, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go soak in the love of Jesus now.