We are reading the Bible in 90 Days at church this summer. Yesterday's assignment was Psalms 46-69...and about halfway through I realized that I was feeling like these psalms are not mine to pray.
I always tell people--and I told people in class just a couple of days ago--that the psalms give us language for anything. We find praise and lament, anger and sadness and fear and joy, all directed toward God in prayer and song. We ought to read them as if we are praying them ourselves, and see how it feels to talk to God in all these different moods.
In that class, we also talked about "enemies"--because so few of us (in our mostly white, mostly middle class, suburban church) have "enemies" in the traditional sense, we talked about how we are often our own worst enemy, and that enemies don't always look like someone chasing us with weapons or plotting our downfall and destruction.
And then I was reading Psalm 54: "the proud have come up against me, violent people want me dead."
And Psalm 55: "My heart pounds in my chest because death's terrors have reached me. Fear and trembling have come upon me; I'm shaking all over. I say to myself, I wish I had wings like a dove! I'd fly away and rest."
Psalm 56: "You yourself have kept track of my misery. Put my tears into your bottle--aren't they on your scroll already?"
57: "My life is in the middle of a pack of lions. I lie down among those who devour humans. Their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues are sharpened swords."
59: "Powerful people are attacking me, Lord, but not because of any error or sin of mine. They run and take their stand--but not because of any fault of mine. ... they come back every evening... don't kill them, or my people might forget... for the sin of their mouths, the words they speak, let them be captured in their pride."
These are not my words to pray. Not today. Maybe not ever, really, but particularly not today. These words belong to Diamond Reynolds. They belong to Alton Sterling's mother. They belong to the families of responsible and good police officers in Dallas. They belong to the families of Trayvon and Michael and Freddie and Eric and Sandra and Clementa and hundreds more. They belong to the parents who are teaching their children how to survive by speaking softly and deferentially, never running, always having their hands visible, double checking their cars and their clothes before leaving the house to be sure nothing could be misconstrued....and then who quake with fear until they come home again.
Too many people in our nation are LIVING these prayers. This is their reality. They are surrounded, and there is no escape. Words are used to dehumanize before the body is done bleeding out on the ground. The error they committed was being born with the wrong color skin. Fear is a daily experience. If only they could do what so many of us do--turn it off for a little while, choose not to think about it, get some rest from the weary days of defending their existence.
I cannot pray these prayers today. What I can do, though, is hear the anguish of my fellow human beings as they cry out. Through these ancient words, their voices ring with pain and fear and anger. I can read these psalms, and know that my neighbors are praying them fervently, with far more urgency than I will ever know.
And then I can listen when God calls me to be an answer to prayer. I can remember, and speak their names, I can stand up and speak out when I see and hear injustice, I can be a voice of grace, I can create space for truth and refuse to repeat rumor, I can put aside my own pride and my own need to be right in order to honor the experience of others, I can be a peacemaker and not only a peacelover. I can be part of the solution, so that one day my neighbors don't need these prayers anymore, except to combat their own internal enemies.
May it be so, Lord...may it be so.