Gratitude & Lament (Psalms: Part 1)

Monday, August 8, 2022


Thank you so much Sarah for preparing this transcript!

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation.  We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at

[00:01:22] Hello, friends, and welcome back to the podcast. For today's episode, we'll be covering a couple of different Psalms. We'll be doing Psalms 1 and 2, 8, 19 through 33, 40 and 46 for the dates August 8th through the 14th. And these are the Psalms that were assigned for the Come Follow Me manual. So it's poetry time! For the next few weeks we'll be spending time in the Book of Psalms. We appreciate how the Come Follow Me manual sets up the first week of Psalms by saying, “We don’t know for certain who wrote the Psalms. Some have been attributed to King David, but for most of them, the writers remain anonymous. Yet after reading the Psalms, we may feel as if we know the hearts of the Psalmists, even if we don’t know their names. What we do know is that the Psalms were an important part of worship among the Israelites, and we know that the Savior quoted them often. In the Psalms, we get a window into the soul of God’s ancient people. We see how they felt about God, what they worried about, and how they found peace…The writers of the Psalms seem to have had a window into our souls and seem to have found a way to express how we feel about God, what we worry about, and how we find peace.”

[00:02:44] Additionally, in the book “The Queer Bible Commentary” author S. Tamar Kamionkowski invites the reader to enter into the Psalms through the voices from the marginalized: “A great number of the psalms represent the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. Both through individual suffering and through ancient Israel’s national experience of exile and displacement; the psalms present a rich record of the perspective of the ‘Other’. The psalms explore what it feels like to be ostracized and abandoned by friends and family. The psalms represent the experiences of depression and spiritual emptiness. The psalms give expression to the feeling of being abandoned by God.”

Elise: [00:03:27] And I think that I appreciate both of these passages that set up the Psalms, and it seems important to us that the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized, along with this variety of human emotions that encompass our human experience show up in this book of scripture by way of poetry. If you've listened to probably any of our other episodes you'll know that Channing and I often quote poems in our episodes.

[00:03:53] We do a whole Holy Week series where we write our own poems for every day of Holy Week. And so I think really at our core, we believe that humans turn to poetry and maybe more broadly art and aesthetics, both in literal and in ontological ways, because it speaks to the truest nature of what it means to be human.

[00:04:14] Art and poetry are fundamental ways that we make sense of a world that harasses us at every turn, through having to work our entire lives, hunting for gain and success, or the distractions of the entertainment industry, et cetera. In our world, forms of knowledge and ways of being that are really technical and calculative, and celebrated by science or these phenomena that can be measured, studied and proven are often misunderstood as both the essential way of being in the world and the most important way of being in the world as if the only thing that matters about humanity is if we can measure it, study it and prove it. Therefore, we think that poetry and the poetic is really far from being celebrated in a popular sense, because it requires something different from us. It requires that we perceive, that we gather, and that we listen, and that we remain sensitive to our surroundings and to others. 

Channing: [00:05:16] Absolutely. So even though art and poetry are often discounted as an exercise that is frivolous or dreamy, or even unmarketable uses of language, we argue alongside many others that art is what not only makes life worth living, but that the poetic is what allows us to dwell on earth with others in the first place. The poetic invites us into language and teaches us to be sensitive to the unfoldings of the world and our relationships with others. Ben Lerner, the author of The Hatred of Poetry writes, “Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine. You're moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms.” This passage from Lerner sets us up really nicely for our discussion about Psalms.

[00:06:27] When we're grappling with something as elusive, mystical, and grand as God, we are reaching after the transcendent, we are reaching after the divine. The way the Psalmist reached toward God is not through commonplace language or technical measuring. The psalmists are not concerned with calculating how many cubits wide God's love is or how many of God's tears we can capture into a vial only then to have proof that God has emotions.

[00:06:54] No, this is absurd. Instead, the Psalmist turned to poetry in an attempt to go beyond the everyday to reach toward the divine while remaining sure not to grasp too firmly on the things they think they know. In poetry, the Psalmists search for the best language to point towards the Divine, all the while, knowing our language is always limited because we are human. 

Elise: [00:07:19] And the Psalmists aren't even the only ones who turn to art and poetry when attempting to understand God. There are many poets and artists who are always searching after the Divine. For example, even on my own nightstand at my own house, I have one of my favorite books of poetry from the Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke. And the book is titled “Book of Hours: Love Poems to God.”

[00:07:43] And Rilke writes these intimate letters that are poems to God throughout all different types of experiences and emotions. He'll write things like, “what will you do, God, when I die?”or “Why am I reaching for the brushes?/when I paint your portrait, God,/ nothing happens.” This is one of my favorite books. And I turn to it often because Rilke's God feels a lot like my God. It seems to me that Rilke addresses God with complexity and sorrow and questioning. Rilke, too, often feels abandoned and wonders when God will come through for him. This is also quite similar to what the Psalmists do in the first 46 chapters of the Book of Psalms. And we hope that you find a chapter or two or three that resonate with you and remind you of your strange but intriguing personal relationship with God.

Channing: [00:08:32] So, as we arrived to the book of Psalms, we wanted to look at some different ways or some different approaches that we could view or interpret the book of Psalms through. One of the ways that we can look at the Psalms is to understand them as poems that were often put to music, just like ancient hymns.

[00:08:50] What we really enjoy about these first 46 chapters of Psalms is that they're all different. They're all passionate and they're all emotional. Whether it's praise, sorrow, anger, or joy, there's a Psalm for that. If you read the assigned chapters from the manual, you'll notice that they've chosen ones that speak to Jesus Christ, and the majority of the topics in these chapters are joyful praises of God. However, we're quite grateful to see that the Come Follow Me manual did not only select the happy Psalms. So as you go through and read the Psalms, there is a couple of ways that you might interpret or read them. The first is a divinatory method.

[00:09:29] Perhaps flipping to a chapter between 1 and 46, reading the poem and interpreting it as meant for you. Did you know, there's a word for this? and there's actually a technical term for this, in like pagan earth based witchcraft spaces. And this is called bibliomancy, where you open the book, with a question and whatever page or content that you happen to open to is the one that is meant just for you.

[00:09:57] So a biblimantic way of reading Psalms. Some pros of this approach is that the Psalms chapters are really short. The language is really vivid and therefore it's memorable. And that means that there's a high likelihood that something is going to speak to you. And the con perhaps, if there is one for doing it this way, is that you only get the smallest taste of what the Psalms offer.

[00:10:22] That's assuming that you only do it one time time, but if you do it many times over the next couple of weeks, or even, you know, there's enough Psalms to last you a lifetime, then you can get a really broad scope of what is waiting for you in the Psalms. 

Elise: [00:10:38] Another method of reading the Psalms might be to approach them topically, like depending on your present situation, your feelings or your relationship with God at this time, or even your interests or your lesson topic that you're assigned, you might consider grouping like-minded Psalms together. For example, you might skim through all 46 chapters and read the section headers and then group Psalms of grief together.

[00:11:03] Or you might choose to only focus on chapters that speak to the glory of God if that's the medicine that you're needing. Some of the pros to this approach would be that you get to choose the mood and the theme that you want. And it offers you maybe a bit more freedom than we've experienced reading the full on stories in the Hebrew Bible up to this point.

[00:11:22] But some of the cons: you may miss something that could have confronted or challenged you if you're only selecting it based on your situation or your mood at the time. 

Channing: [00:11:32] And one final way that you might approach reading the book of Psalms is chapter by chapter. You can sit down and read all 46 chapters or the handful of ones assigned by the manual.

[00:11:44] Some pros of doing this is that it's a good range of poetic coverage, anything from joy to sorrow and everything in between. Perhaps some cons might be that this approach is more time consuming and it's handpicked by the church to shape a message focused on Jesus Christ, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as we understand the biased viewpoint that it's coming from. So what did we do this week as we sat down to prepare for this episode? We read the assigned chapters, but also the chapter headings of all of the poems in Psalms not selected. Then if a chapter heading happened to catch our eye, we would read it.

[00:12:21] We're really glad we did this because one of the most vivid descriptions of sorrow for sin is found in an unassigned chapter. 

Elise: [00:12:29] One of the resources that we really, really loved when we were studying Psalms this week is actually from a blog post on the Exponent II blog by an author named EM. And we encourage everyone to read this article that's basically, it's just titled the same sections as the Come Follow Manuel for this week. But one of the things that we like about this article is that the first theme it addresses for this grouping of psalms is that it addresses the themes of authenticity found within the psalms.

[00:12:59] This is to say that the author of this blog post recognizes the ways that the psalmists don't hide anything from God. Whether they're sad or [angry] at God or really happy they lay it all out on the table in a really authentic way. For example, in chapter 21, verse 9, the Psalmists are [angry] at their enemies and they say, “Thou shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of thy anger and the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath and the fire shall devour them.” In chapter 22, the Psalmists are feeling like absolute dirt. They write, I am a worm and no man, a reproach of men and despised of the people, all they that see me laugh me to scorn.” Later in chapter 22, the Psalmists are feeling depressed, flat, and empty.

[00:13:51] I love these verses. They say, “I am poured out like water and all my joints are out of joint. My heart is like wax. It is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” If we jump over to chapter 29, this is also where we see Psalmists worshiping and glorifying God.

[00:14:15] They say things like, “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Of this, the author of the blog post Em writes, “Some Psalms are much more aggressive, asking that God break the enemy's teeth or thrust the enemy into Hell. The psalmists are honest about anger, disappointment, and hatred. They bring all the ugliness of humanity before God not trying to pretend to be better than they are, or hide the darkness within, from someone who sees it all anyways. There is no purpose in posturing and pretending not to have feelings of anger, jealousy, impatience, or dislike or any other unflattering emotion. God knows we feel that way. The Psalmists did not hide their humanity behind a veneer of pious devotion. And we can follow their example in our prayers.” 

Channing: [00:15:11] I really enjoy this quote because it brings to light something that I feel like is pretty unusual, especially in Mormon spaces, right?

[00:15:23] Like I'm used to sitting in testimony meetings where it's like, “Okay, well, life is hard and I'm not quite sure what's happening, but God is good.” And there's a lot of like, there's a lot of sayings and a lot of ways of talking about and believing in the goodness of God, almost to a stubborn and untruthful point, right? And in Mormonism, we have a really difficult time, especially in our church and community spaces being really vulnerable about our feelings, especially our feelings about the Divine. And I wish there were more testimonies that I have heard in my life that said things like, “Wow, I'm really mad at God. Like, how could God do this to me? How? Like, this is the space that I'm in. I'm angry. I am hateful. I am vengeful. I want revenge on God.” And being able to experience the full spectrum of human emotions with our community can, if we were willing to implement it, be such a healing process, for each other and really healthy, right? for our religious viewpoints and takes on the world. And what I've found in my small and limited attempts to showcase such authenticity and vulnerability in my emotions is people often say, like, “You can't say that you're mad at God!” And I'm like, “why not? Like, if we really believe that God is this all powerful, all knowing being, like, if God can't handle my anger, is that a God that I really believe in?”

[00:17:13] Because I need, in my relationship with God, I need a space to be able to share my true, authentic feelings with the people that I love. And if I'm unable to do that in a relationship, that relationship becomes tenuous. It becomes one-sided and I become filled with resentment, guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear. And so I really feel, at least in my own experience, in my relationship with the Divine, with all of the changes and growth that's happened in that space, that authenticity and vulnerability has been some of the most important elements that I've incorporated into that relationship. And what I've found is, God is like, “Yes, finally, I want you to be mad.” Like, “Finally! Feel your feelings after however many years that you've been told to shove them down and stuff them away as if they're not important, like, I gave you your anger. I gave you your fear, your hesitancy, your lust, your love, all of the things that you experience as a human- I gave those to you because I love you.”

And so once I had this understanding that all feelings are good and God was big enough to hold space for all of that was the moment that my relationship with God transformed from one of a very fearful, anxious, guilt ridden, yeah, I like that word: veneer, of like righteous piety and optimism and faith in a totally 100% good God. And instead allowed space for questioning and anger and self righteousness and vindication. And I'm so grateful for that because I feel so much more confident and so much more comfortable in the way of knowing God loves me no matter what it is that I'm feeling. So, yeah, I just, I love seeing that reflected in the psalms. 

Elise: [00:19:25] Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I love that you can see yourself echoed or reflected back in the vulnerable, authentic parts of the psalmists here. The same article that we were referring to from the Exponent II blog also suggests that we could use the Psalms as a way to hear Biblical women.

[00:19:45] And I think this is a really creative approach because not only does it pull on stories of past women in the scriptures that we've already studied, but it draws on the work of feminist theology to reimagine the stories of marginalized communities by using scripture out of context, in order to humanize or to flesh out some of the unknown details of these women's stories.

[00:20:08] EM writes, “We can use the Psalms to illuminate the stories of women in the Old Testament and come to a fuller understanding of what they felt in moments of great trauma or rejoicing. One example is the story of the rape of Tamar found in 2 Samuel.” The article notes that this creative voice-giving doesn't only work for grim stories like Tamar’s, there are many other biblical women like Miriam, Deborah, or Hannah, or even Mary that are known for expressing praise and appreciation to God.

Channing: [00:20:39] EM writes, “For each of them this moment of beauty happens in the wake of a divine reversal. Miriam and Deborah both rejoice on behalf of a reversal for their people. They are brought out of captivity. Hannah and Mary both rejoice in personal reversals. Hannah was barren and becomes a mother. Mary was born of humble circumstances, but was chosen by God for an exalted role. This pattern of movement from complaint to assurance, prompting Psalms of reversal, is present throughout the Book of Psalms. For example, in Psalm 30, it reads, ‘You, Lord brought me up from the realm of the dead. You spared me from going down to the pit. Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning’ and Psalm 40 reading: ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit out of the mulch and mire. He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.’ ” 

Elise: [00:21:40] Because the Psalms don't read like a chronological story that we've been used to for this year, I really appreciate the author's suggestion here to kind of review some of the stories that we've covered throughout the year and see how we can bring them to life by finding their voice in the Psalms and kind of recontextualizing these stories.

[00:22:01] And along similar lines of recontextualizing the Psalms, Liz Ullery Swenson offers a queer reading of Psalm 31. Psalm 31 is a prayer for help that seems to initially end with verse 8, but then starts all over again with verse 9. And of this Swenson writes, “The double prayer or repeating format is fitting for a queer reading of the Psalm because the process of coming out is initially two fold.

[00:22:29] The person must go through the internal work of coming out to and embracing their own identity first, and then must come out to their family and larger community. The process of coming out is then repeated every time the person meets someone new or engages in a new community. And so the prayer may be repeated each time the person must do the vulnerable work of coming out. In that sense, it is a cyclical prayer for many seasons. Then Swenson kind of outlines each of the verses, following this queer recontextualization. So we can see in, kind of, the first few verses there's this first prayer for help in coming out to the self.

[00:23:10] Then there are pleas to God for support and expressions of trust and praise. The second prayer, starting around verse 9 is a prayer for help in coming out to the community. From there, we hear more pleas to God for safety, a later expression of trust in God, and finally, chapter 31 ends with praise.

[00:23:31] And after reading this chapter a few times, a very shortened version of this queer recontextualized prayer for coming out might read something like: “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust. Let me never be ashamed. Be thou my strong rock. Be a house of defense to save me, lead me and guide me. Have mercy on me, o Lord, for my life is spent with grief. I was a reproach among all my mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors and a fear to mine acquaintance. For I have heard the slander of many. Fear was on every side. While they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life. Let me not be ashamed, O Lord, for I have called upon thee. Let the wicked be ashamed. But I trusted in thee, O Lord. I said thou art my God. Thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee. O, love the Lord, for the Lord, preserveth the faithful and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer. Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart.”

[00:24:35] So we hope that you can see with this example that there are lots of ways to recontextualize the Psalms, which deepen their meaning for our everyday life without stripping them of their place and historicity, as they're written in the Hebrew Bible. Also, if you're interested in more queer readings of Psalms, we recommend Queer Theology's weekly Bible podcast, particularly for Psalm 23. This is this really popular Psalm about God being our shepherd as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Channing: [00:25:09] We also really appreciated reading Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney's blog post titled “A New/Old Psalm of Lament,” which recontextualizes and reworks Psalm 13 to speak to the murder of black folks at the hands of police. Gafney writes:

How long Holy One? Will you forget us forever?

How long will you let them kill us?

How long will you let them deny us justice?

How long O Lord?

How long will you hide your face from us? From what they do to us?

How long?

How long must we bear this pain in our souls?

How long must we have sorrow in our broken hearts? How long?

How long shall those who have made themselves our enemies be exalted, over us?

How long?

Look at us! Answer us! We are crying out to you. How long?

Show us something. Because right now they are putting us down like dogs in the street.

Then they walk out of court saying, “I have prevailed.”

They rejoice and we are shaken, more than shaken; we are shook.

How long?

 In Gafney's commentary afterward, she writes, “...Praise is important and perhaps we’ll get there but sometimes the church just needs to lament, to cry out our grief and rage, anguish and anger. But some folk think Christians shouldn’t lament, that our every word should be praise…But the church isn’t comfortable with lament…” She continues, “I just came by to give you permission if you needed it to pour out your heart to God, to tell her everything you think, fear and feel, because she knows it anyway. Lament unburdens our hearts from a load that is too much for us to bear alone….Songs of lament are holy songs. Songs of lament are healing songs. Songs of lament are heart-changing songs, ours and theirs. Hammer the heavens with your lament and you will discover that we are not alone in our cry.”

[00:27:22] I cannot get enough of Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney. She just does such amazing work and she seems to get it right almost every time. I wonder how different our Sunday School lessons would be if we both, one, took the Psalms seriously, and secondly, got comfortable with lament and pain as a congregation. It would be totally different than what we know.  

Elise: [00:27:46] Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate those questions. And it also reminds me of the role that people with privilege like ourselves might play in these types of lament psalms, right? There are different roles we might play. And I think for the ones shared by Wil Gafney particularly, as white women, our role is multifold: I think our role is to witness, but then our role is to also disrupt and interrupt white supremacy. And so I just want us to be careful that were we to use any of these recontextualized Psalms in our lessons or in our own personal study that we make sure to give space to the experience of the most marginalized while simultaneously recognizing our own privilege and where that puts us in relationship to the recontextualized Psalms.

Channing: [00:28:35] Yeah. And kind of drawing on the work of Audre Lorde, Lorde really talks about the importance of language, to bring forward issues and feelings and experiences that without language would otherwise go unknown. And in her essay/speech titled “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” the action piece is really central. It's not just that we hear and we understand there also has to be something done about it. And so I think also borrowing from Lorde's work and remembering yes, witness, yes, hear, yes, understand. And then yes, also act- is an incredibly important piece that sometimes gets forgotten.

[00:29:26] So after all of that, after everything we've covered, if you're possibly still unsure about how to approach the Psalms this week, we have a final few suggestions for study. You could rely on questions to guide you. You might ask questions of the text, such as: who is God in these chapters? Who is the Psalmist? What do you think they're going through? How does the Psalmist approach God? What does the Psalmist ask, need or require of God? And finally, what proof or examples does the Psalmist use to make their point? 

Elise: [00:30:03] We’ve kind of hinted at this next suggestion, but you might consider writing your own Psalms, like we've seen some of the other examples from this episode do. And a few years ago I was responsible for teaching a Young Woman's lesson that fell really close to the Thanksgiving holiday. And for this lesson, we spent a lot of time talking about gratitude and appreciation and the importance of taking care of one another.

[00:30:27] For the lesson I had made this big table in the center of the room and I brought some bread and jam so that we could kind of partake of this feast together, all in gratitude. And I printed out a few of the Psalms that really focused on thanksgiving and gratitude. And then I had us read them together. And then I had each of us cut out the individual words from the Psalms until we had this really big pile of each individual word. After that I then asked each of the class members to create their own psalms of thanksgiving using these cut out words, and then to read them aloud to the class. And this was

Channing: [00:31:03] Aw! I was gonna say, like, kinda like poetry, like magnet refrigerator poetry? 

Elise: [00:31:06] Yes, exactly. Yes. I love that magnet refrigerator poetry out of Psalms of Thanksgiving. And this was a really moving experience for us. And it was so moving that I ended up saving each of their Psalms. And this is from years ago, but I just wanted to read just two of their creations to show you how rewarding this experience might be. One of the girls’ poems read: “the song of thanksgiving endures. Praise the steadfast, unfailing Lord. Goodwill unto His name forever. Through the shadow, He comforts me.” Right? Like, amazing. So thoughtful and so lovely.

Channing: Oh my gosh. 

Elise: So thoughtful. Another really simple song that came forth from another one of the girls read: “I will tell you to give thanks to the Lord for His heart is forever.” Simple, straightforward, and yet still quite profound. So I think that you might consider doing something like that for whatever emotion or circumstance you might find yourself in, you don't have to do this activity only with Psalms of thanksgiving, you can also do it for Psalms of sorrow or depression or anger, right? And one of the things I love and trust about words, language, and poetry is that the words will tell us what to say. I think it would've been so much more difficult for this class of girls, if I just said, like, “Hey, write your own psalm,” and I didn't give them any words or didn't give them any examples. But word by word, they were able to uncover the Psalm that they wanted to bring forth.

[00:32:43] And philosopher Merlou Ponty says something similar. He says “sometimes I don't know what I think until I write.” And maybe perhaps this week, you can use the words of the Psalms to help you explore what you think, how you feel and how then you're called to act moving forward. 

Channing: [00:33:01] Oh, this is such a beautiful approach to the Psalms. And honestly, I'm really excited about doing this exercise for myself. What an incredibly creative and explorative way to read the Psalms and experience the Psalms. 

Friends, we're so grateful to have spent this time with you. And we're really thankful that you've joined us for this week's episode. Take good care of yourselves and we'll see you for next week. Bye.

Elise: [00:33:35] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists podcast. We know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us. 

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We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

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