Yesterday (Sunday) I accompanied one of the Brothers to a march organized by a local group called Mothers against Gun Violence – we walked through an area of downtown Syracuse to an outdoor gathering where there were about 2 hours of performances – prayers, raps, poems, a mime, and so on. I was glad I went, but the left side of my brain kept saying, “Do they expect this to actually stop people in the heat of the moment from taking violent actions?” Centering prayer, teaching about nonviolence, all that seems more “results-oriented,” and maybe it is, but then today I was listening to a clip of Walter Brueggemann giving a sermon at Duke University, making his way through a lament psalm, and I realized that, in their own way, that’s what those folks yesterday were doing. “Effectiveness” is only one pole of the work they are involved in – most of the people there had lost someone to violence (as evidenced by the number of people wearing t-shirts with iron-ons or airbrushings of deceased friends or family members), and lament is the appropriate response to such a rending of life’s fabric. Part of their intention was undoubtedly to tell young people to stay away from violence, but I imagine that much of it was rather about the need to “bring speech to pain.”
As I was listening to Brueggemann’s sermon, I was caught up with realization that I almost never hear a sermon on a psalm. My experience in Catholicism is that sermons are more often on some piece of Catholic doctrine, or on a moral kernel to be gleaned from the gospel, or perhaps Paul (although it seems that Paul is too close to the Protestant schema for most Catholics to know what to do with him). The psalms, though, particularly the lament psalms, present the grittiness of life lived with God and the boldness of making big complaints and big imperatives of God – something many of us are not comfortable with. Brueggemann concluded another clip I watched this morning with the line, “If people are caught in dogmatism or in moralism, they tend not to see how incredibly artistic it all is.” One of his big motifs is the need for the artistic, the poetic, to bring speech to the stuff we usually deny – the heartache and uncertainty and rage we feel and then feel bad about feeling, because good people aren’t “supposed” to think that way. So, we prefer a safe denial to a risky honesty and thereby truncate God to only having access to the acceptable parts of our lives, and the shadow part of our lives and our personalities runs unchecked and unhealed.