Psalm 5, 42
We never know what life is going to bring us. Somehow, we think it is all supposed to be good. Especially, that if it is from God, it is good. Well, I trust that, actually. But I wonder what I understand about the goodness of God. What is included in God’s goodness?
God is everywhere, in-with-and-under all things. In-with-and-under us as human beings. Even in-with-and-under us human beings when we make hurtful choices. Even in-with-and-under us human beings when hurtful things are wrought upon us. Could God be in-with-and-under even those things which happen which are beyond answers?
I wonder about that.
Take what is happening in my family right now, with the disappearance of my mother. It is easy to judge this occurrence as bad, or evil. It feels that way, be assured! But what else? Because God is everywhere, God is in this too. I just can’t see for the fog! I live in a fog. Imagine yourself in a fog or darkness so thick that you have no idea where to take a step. How do I just stand here and hope for the fog to break? Yet there seems to be no other way out. No clue in the fog.
As I have prayed, I have used the image of a beacon – a beacon of light to show me, my family, the police, which way to turn, where to look. But there has been no beacon. God could do this! God is light, after all, so a beacon should be in God’s toolbox! God used a star to guide the wise men, after all.
Is God’s silence bad? Is it a judgment on us somehow? What have we done to deserve this? This isn’t fair! What did we not learn when this happened to our father more than 17 years ago?! In February of 1998 my father left for his week at the Farmer’s Market and never arrived, never returned to us. He was found 36 hours later. He had died from a bout with a disease he carried. With Mom it has now been 5 full days! And she was perfectly healthy! This can’t happen to one family twice, I protest! It isn’t fair!
This is the language of lament. And the Bible is full of it! Perhaps, I have never before so much appreciated this kind of praying! The Psalmists did it all the time! One third of the Psalms are called Psalms of lament or complaint. How much of your life do you spend complaining, being depressed by, sorrowing under the burden of the hand life has dealt you – that GOD has dealt you?! Do we dare hold God accountable for this?
Sadly, it has become inappropriate in the ways of the church, to complain – especially in church, in worship! But the Psalms, one third of which are these laments, were Israel’s prayer book. They used these angry, complaining, desperate sentiments all the time!
Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has written about the consequences of the loss of the ability to lament to the life of the church.  He suggests that lament comes from an honest, open committed heart. It comes out of a keen awareness of the relationship between God and me. If only good, polite, joyful language is appropriate with God, then we must leave half of ourselves at home. We are not always happy, thankful and joyful. Sometimes our hearts are heavy with worry, grief, or depression. Sometimes we are furiously angry at someone, or at life in general. Or sometimes, we are angry with God. Furious and wanting to hold God to account for God’s own actions or inactions.
Does that sound sacrilegious? Not for the people of Israel, but maybe for the church of America. Brueggemann suggests that maybe we need to get angry with God. Say, this is not right! This is unjust! Take our lives in our hands and pray the Psalms for all they are worth! Maybe it isn’t politically correct. But such restraint makes us subservient to the status quo. And God would never want that! God asked Moses to confront Pharaoh! God told the prophet Nathan to say to David: You are the man! And Jesus called the status seekers a brood of vipers! Is our relationship with God strong enough to get angry? To bring all our complaints into the court of the Lord?
Stacey Gleddiesmith talks about her bout with anger and depression in the church: I had spent a wonderfully rich two months in Ethiopia, recording Christian Somali music for broadcast from Ethiopia over Somalia. During my time there I received numerous “prophetic words” that doors would open for me when I returned to Canada. But within a few short months of my return I was unemployed and living in the basement of a friend’s parent’s house. My familial home had burned down and a friend of mine had committed suicide. These were not the doors I wanted opened. 
That last phrase got my attention: “these were not the doors I wanted opened.” True for me as well. I want only the happy, joyful doors to open to light. But sometimes the doors open to darkness and fog. Does that mean they are not the right doors, or that they are not good? Will my anger cause one of the doors to open to my mother being found? Sometimes, the doors lead elsewhere and leave our questions unanswered. Where? Why? We are left with the questions.
And we can ask God about that! Call God to account for action. To make this a more just world. Get angry, throw word stones until you get God’s attention! God is there. Sometimes it takes a well-placed arrow to experience that loving presence.
There is a spiritual classic from the 14th century called, The Cloud of Unknowing. That feels like were I am. That is where the Psalmists found themselves. When they got there, though, they didn’t just sit down and moan – well, actually that is exactly what they did often, at first. But then they stood up and got angry and called out to God to enact justice – NOW! The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing puts it this way:
“For God can well be loved, but God cannot be thought. By love God can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.” 
But usually one must be in utter desolation to be so bold. The fog I live in right now, a fog of unknowing, is thick and debilitating. But there is something in it for me, for my family. Perhaps more than anger, or depression, what this cloud feels like is utter confusion. In that confusion, come questions and these questions might just be the life line – or, the dart to throw into that thick cloud of unknowing. Just perhaps, the question, born of grief, anger and just plain stubbornness can be the dart of love which will open the presence of God.
Richard Rohr also wrote this week about The Cloud of Unknowing. The anonymous author describes the culminating experience of union with God: “It comes down to this, if God wants to work in your soul, God has to work in secret. If you knew, you would get puffed up, you would run in fear, you would try to take control of the process, or you would close down the whole Mystery with your rational mind. We each must learn to live in the cloud of our own unknowing.”
In other words, the way I read this, we must be in the place where we do not know and cannot be in control, in order to be in the presence of God. These were not the doors I wanted opened, as Stacey Gleddiesmith said. There is something in me, and maybe in you too, that wants to hold on, which wants to know. I do not want to be outside of my own control. Yet, that is the place God meets us face to face. That is where God lives. In the place where we let go of our surety. In the place where we let go of control. In the place where doors open to what we did not expect, what we fear as darkness, or even evil, what we thought could not be part of God. Only there can we discover, so say the ancient ones, that God is there too.
I have gone back again to one of my most precious ancient prayers from Julian of Norwich. It was a prayer which came to her in one of her dream revelations. She had been arguing with God about why God allowed sin in the world. All would be well without it, she insisted. “But Jesus… answered with these words…: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.‘”
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. That is not a faint-hearted prayer. It is a prayer from the midst of struggle, anger, and unknowing. And it is the sentiment with which most of the Psalms of lament end. They end with a renewed resolution to put oneself into the hands of this, not-so-cooperative God, and trust that all shall be well, even if we don’t like it, or it doesn’t look well to us. Can we trust God like that? Can I? I still want my mother to be found! That will never change. And, what else is there to find? Maybe it is time to practice these hard prayers. May we discover in them encounter with the presence of God.
 “The Costly Loss of Lament,” by Walter Brueggemann, JSOT36 (1986) 57-71, www.friendschurchsw.org/uploads/mod5_brueggemann_on_loss_of_lament.pdf
 “My God, My God, Why?:”Understanding the Lament Psalms, by Stacey Gleddiesmith, June 2010, www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2010/my-god-my-god-why
 The Cloud of Unknowing and other works. Penguin Classics. 2001. ISBN 978-0-14-044762-0. Translated by A. C. Spearing
 Rohr, Richard, Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, The Cloud of Unknowing, Part II Friday, July 24, 2015.
 “Article #31,” by Dan Graves, www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/incontext/article/julian/