Miserere mie, Deus: Psalm 51 and Jeremiah’s Lament

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April 23, 2011 by Nicole

…secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

In other words, “Have mercy on me, God, in your great goodness.”   Quite appropriate for me this week, I’d say.

Last night, my husband and I attended the Tenebrae service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which, in the last three years, has become my service of choice for honoring Good Friday.  I wrote at this time last year about the Tenebrae service, but this year in particular, it was most helpful to me in light of the disappointments of the last week.

Two parts of the service in particular were very much a comfort.  First, there was the choir’s performance of  Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere Mei, which is a gorgeous setting of Psalm 51 sung in Latin.  The melodic line switches back and forth between the men singing in a traditional chant style and the women answering in a haunting and beautiful response.  There is one part in particular, where you hear a crystal clear, high C above middle C (which is high, but not as high as some other notoriously difficult passages, like Der Hoelle Rache Kocht in Meinem Herzen from Mozarts The Magic Flute)  that seems like it soars right out of heaven.

Music geekiness aside, if you have read my last letter to God, then you know that I had more than a few choice words for Him.  No, I didn’t curse God (That would be very awful–I keep Job’s wife in the utmost front of my mind at such times), but needless to say, I was angry and upset at why this is the 8th or so time that this has to happen.  People who know me well (not including my husband, who knows me better than anyone) usually see me as a pretty happy, upbeat person, who is rarely phased by much.  For the most part, I handle change well and manage to adapt to things fairly quickly.  But, on the day the news came–I got into my car and, while I didn’t “lose it,”  well, let’s just say I took advantage of the fact that the inside of my car is a fairly private place for the most part.  I held little back.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus:/cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.

Good Friday, three days after we found out, put this experience into perspective: “My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.”  It makes me both happy and relieved to be a Christian, that God is who He is and that his Son made such an incredible sacrifice.

In addition to Miserere Mei,  the other part that was greatly helpful was that  I was selected to lector (or, if you’re not familiar with the term, I got to stand up in the front  and minister God’s Word from the ambo/pulpit for the congregation)  for this particular service, and I read a section of Chapter 3 out of Lamentations, which was incredibly easy to relate to considering how I have felt all week long.  What I got was the answer I had been needing to hear; it was God’s gentle yet firm reminder that the reason that people like Jeremiah et. al were able to maintain faith in God’s plan and his works were because they still knew, even if they were in the middle of a living hell (My life, however, is not that bad by any means), they were not alone.  And, God reminded me that he did not love Jeremiah any less because of the fact that he cried out in anguish over the pain that he felt God was inflicting on him, nor did Jeremiah’s pleading for mercy and relief–and what I can only describe as gut-wrenching agony that must have caused him to want to scream out of frustration and tear his hair out–arouse God’s anger further.  Jeremiah was heartbroken. So am I.

God whispered  in my ear, reminding me to be mindful of that for which his Son died; my problems are not so large that they threaten to engulf me. God will not allow that to happen.  I was reminded, in a sobering and gentle way that I am loved.  God understands my pain and my anger and my frustration, and they are not wrong or sinful.  He does not delight in my suffering, but it has a necessary purpose.  Above all, I have not been abandoned.  Stay the course and remain faithful.  I have not abandoned you.

And so, here we are: Holy Saturday.  The tomb will be found empty tomorrow morning, and we will be reminded of the miracle that defines us as Christians.  When I think about why bad things happen to good people, I ultimately felt a little silly about my anger in the end.  Bad things don’t happen because of God; we cannot blame God for bad things that happen due to human decisions and behaviors–in light of the last week, my situation is what it is because of a human decision, not necessarily a Divine one.   It was a decision that in no way represents the whole of the people at that particular faith community.

I suppose I could choose to be angry, bitter, and cynical.  After all, that’s what the brimstone ashmonkey who presides over hell would love to see happen.  So, you big, fallen brimstone ashmonkey, guess what.  You lose.  I am not angry and I won’t hold a grudge.  I do, however, pray that the people most influential in this decision will one day be enlightened about the pain I felt because, though they have never met me or gotten to know me,  judged me because of who they think I am, in the hopes that one day in the future, they will not cause the same sadness for someone else.

That is, after all, the message of the Resurrection, isn’t it?

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