Prophets and Public Theologians (Jeremiah 1-20)

Tuesday, October 11, 2022


Special thank you to Sarah for completing 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

[00:01:23] Hi friends. Welcome back to the podcast. For this week we're covering the Psalms from Psalm 102 to Psalm 150. So this is our last week in the book of Psalms and we'll be covering the content assigned in the Come Follow Me manual for August 22nd through the 28th. This week we were pretty unsure how to best approach the Psalms. In reality, they've been a little bit trickier than we expected to record a podcast for. While poetry speaks to the soul, how do we whittle it down to a podcast portion? Really, this has been a lesson for us on how to teach poetry. For us, working with the Psalms has allowed us to appreciate both human vulnerability and intimacy with God, as well as appreciate the stories found in the Hebrew Bible with characters, conflict, drama, and resolution. The other thing that is surprising to us is that we've not faced as much difficulty or problematic content with the Psalms, but without a clear story to analyze, critique, and comment on, we found ourselves having to sit with people's feelings about God, without having those feelings wrapped up in a story about family ties or on atrocities and power. But like we said, it's our last week with Psalms and we're back again to do our very best with this episode. So here are a couple of things that stuck out to us this week.

Elise: [00:02:48] I think one of the first Psalms that stuck out to me this week was Psalm 102. It's the first Psalm that's assigned in the Come Follow Me manual. And it's titled, like, “the prayer of the afflicted” or “a prayer from the margins,” “a prayer from the oppressed,” something like that. And this is really interesting because almost all of the other chapters that are assigned this week are psalms of praise, joy, and gratitude. However, chapter 102 starts off the readings with a really desperate cry for help and support. In the first two verses of this chapter the Psalmist is imploring God to one, hear her prayer and two do not hide from her, especially in this time of sorrow and affliction. Then a series of, like, similes follows. This is very, like, “poetic,” “motif”... So a series of similes follow in an attempt to communicate to God just how awful and despair-filled her affliction is. She writes things like- and I'm using the pronouns “she” here but just for creative fun. We don't know who the Psalmist is- but she writes things like, “Her bones are burned as a hearth.” “Her heart is withered like grass.” Then she draws, on, like different birds to articulate how lonely or separate she's feeling. She says, “I'm like a pelican of the wilderness. I am like an owl of the desert. I watch and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.” She says, “I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping.” And so we get this really colorful image of how awful this situation is for the Psalmist. Then comes verse 10, which is where the Psalmist makes really clear that part of her suffering she thinks comes from God's wrath. She writes, “For thou has lifted me up and cast me down.” And one of the things I think we're continually impressed by in these psalms is the way that the Psalmists are unafraid to blame God, to bring their anger to God. And it's as if this God is big enough to hold her anger, it doesn't scare God away and it doesn't make the Psalmist feel ashamed. Yet what follows in the rest of the chapter is this, like, really remarkable, relentless hope and faith in a God that even when this God is angry, they are somehow still merciful and loving forever. And even more than that, the heart of this Psalm seems to speak to a hope to be seen, a hope to be heard, and a desire to be loved. Verses 17-20, say things like, “I hope that God will hear the prayer of the destitute and not despise their prayer.” “I hope that from heaven, God hears the groaning of the prisoner and then looses those that are appointed to death.” Some of the things I think we love about this psalm is that it speaks to the weight of affliction and oppression on earth while still simultaneously hoping and trusting that God will hear us, see us, and know us in our suffering. 

Channing: [00:05:48] I love that, Elise, and I also think the Psalm is quite timely for those who cry out under the pains and afflictions of homophobia and transphobia, white supremacy, sexism, and ableism. I imagine folks on the margin following similar lines as in this Psalm saying things like, “Hear me. Listen to my cry. Do not turn away from me when I am in trouble. When I call, answer me.” And one of the best things about this understanding of God as our neighbor is that it places these cries from the margins on us, we might ask ourselves questions like: how might I be different or better situated to support marginalized groups if I were to take their “prayers of the afflicted,” so to speak, as cries of action for me? What if I heard trans folks crying out, “Hear me. Answer me. Don't turn away from me.” And took that as a personal call?  In this way, although this psalm is a personal reflection on and a demand for God, it's also a reminder that we create the world we want to be a part of. How long can we let the prayers of the afflicted be unheard and unanswered? And I think that those are really powerful questions to ask as we go through and read Psalm 102.

Moving forward in the text, one of the psalms that caught our eye was also Psalm 104. And the thing that really caught my attention was all of the nature symbolism that we see in this psalm particularly. We see symbolism like eagles, grass, the wind and waters, clouds, and mountains, springs, wine, oil, bread, trees, birds, goats, rocks, seasons, sun, moon, forest, lions, and the sea. So there's, like, literally so many nature symbols and nature beings contained in Psalms 104. And I really just appreciated this connection between nature and, like, earth symbolism to God or The Divine. And something that I've returned to again and again, as I deepen my own relationship with the Divine, is poetry and more specifically the work of nature writers. For me, the work of nature writers acts as a guidepost on a trail, not necessarily dictating a direction, but offering a path for us to walk down. Their arrows seemed to point everywhere as if to say, “God is all around you. Where would you like to go today?” And I really saw nature poetry really reflected in Psalm 104. And I just feel so pulled to talk about nature poetry. What nature poets teach us with their words and their lives is that poetry is not just a doing, but a being. There is a rich nourishing quality to thoughtfully curated language. Poetry is both a way to celebrate life and is a conscious movement within it. Poetry is a meditation. It's a study, it's given and received like a breath shared between lovers. It calls us to make a home on the borders of heaven and earth. To do any of these things we must become good students. We must slow down. To skim the pages of any poetry is to miss a lesson. We must relearn what it means to care. For example, in the words of Alice Walker, she says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it.” There are four specific lessons or things that I think we can specifically learn from nature poets. The first is that through nature poetry, we begin to appreciate the way The Divine opens us up to unexpected teachers. Secondly, we receive a gift when we learn the language of silence. Third, we awaken to the creative power of language. And finally, we realize that poets care for language and therefore care for our world. I really loved this quote from Rosemary Radford Ruether, who in her book talks about different ways that we can begin to care for the earth and also, like, make real actual changes, especially about the climate crisis. And she writes, “We need to take time to sit under trees, look at water and at the sky. Observe small biotic communities of plants and animals with close attention and get back in touch with the living earth. We can start to release the stifled, intuitive and creative powers of our organism to draw and write poetry and to know that we stand on holy ground.” And I love this perspective, that taking time to be with nature and to draw our creative powers and our connective powers from the time that we spend with the other beings outside is an actual, like, real life way to engage in climate action. That's just so, so very powerful. So I just wanted to give a little nod to the nature poetry and the nature symbolism that we see in Psalm 104. 

Elise: [00:11:10] Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And along these same lines of… I mean, all of Psalms is poetry but I think this week, for me, one of the Psalms that stood out as being, like, one of the most poetic in regards to form is Psalm 119. And it's the longest psalm and it's the longest chapter in the Bible. And what I'm gonna share next is from the Enduring Word website and on their website it states, “The sections and verses of Psalm 119 are not like a chain where one link is interconnected to the other, but it's like a string of pearls where each pearl has equal, but independent value.” And I like thinking of this Psalm that way, instead of trying to read it as a story to reach the climax, you can really take bite size verses and see what wisdom is there for you. And it's interesting because this Psalm is arranged in an acrostic pattern. You know, the way that we would write, like, maybe in elementary school, you would write your name, each letter vertically, and then you would say, like, “E is for excellent and L is for loving…” that type of thing. That's the same way that this psalm is organized. So there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and this psalm contains 22 units and each unit has eight verses in it. Each of the 22 sections is given a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each line of that section begins with that letter. It's so cool. Like so amazing. And this is a Psalm that's all about glorifying God and God's word as it refers to scripture. So it's about celebrating the scriptures. There's a passage that I found about this Psalm from the English preacher Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon says, “This wonderful psalm from its great length helps us to wonder at the immensity of scripture; its variety is that of a kaleidoscope. From a few objects, a boundless variation is produced. In the kaleidoscope, you look once and there is a strangely beautiful form. You shift the glass a very little and another shape equally delicate and beautiful is before your eyes. So here it is.” Hello, a kaleidoscope scripture about scriptures is mind blowing. So, so fun. And it's such a fantastic way to approach this chapter as if you're looking through a kaleidoscope. And I really wish that I had  known this background or done some study before I just dove into Psalm 119, because I think it would've helped me stay a bit more engaged when I was reading. So instead of being like, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, like, get to the pinnacle of the story. I could have approached these verses as different and deeper renditions of one, another continually unfolding. 

Channing: [00:13:59] I love that image of a kaleidoscope and a string of pearls. Like both are such a beautiful way to engage with the text. This next quote comes from Sean Burt who wrote “Your Torah is my Delight; Repetition and the Poetics Immanence in Psalm 119.”

Burt writes, “This poem in other words, shows itself to be a rigorously structured and self-consciously complete text that nonetheless presses the seeker of Torah continually onward, not to the unifying concept behind the poem, but always back to the poem itself, to the next synonym. This poem employs traditional theological language, but turns it inside out to place its power on the surface of the poem. Psalm 119 suggests that poetry's task lies not only in signifying worlds, but also in creating them.” And we really enjoy this passage because as people who have a podcast about scriptures and care about art and poetry, it seems our task is not just to point to the scriptures and say, “Hey, look over here!” But also we have a task in co-creating worlds out of what we learn from the scriptures. And we don't know about you, but our world has changed since approaching the scriptures from an intersectional lens in a weekly practice. And we really get to see that happening in Psalm 119. 

Elise: [00:15:23] Yes. Yes. I love that. Now, if you were to approach Psalm 119, like, beware. It's like 176 verses, and I know that there are people out there who kind of use Psalm 119 as a practice where they choose one verse every day for the year and kind of spend two years working their way through the entire Psalm. So that's kind of a cool contemplative way to work through it instead of reading the entire chapter. The last psalm that we wanted to look at for this week is Psalm 147. Now, if nothing else, we hope that the Psalms have showed you or inspired you or given you permission to do a couple of things. First; it's okay to get vulnerable with God. That means angry, vengeful, joyful or grateful. And secondly, we hope that the Psalms have showed us and showed you that we can get creative with our conceptions of God. And Psalm 147 is a great example of creative conceptions and imaginative renderings of God. So while this is a psalm of praise, I want us to look at the God that they are praising. It doesn't look or sound like the white super buff Jesus statue in the temple visitor center, nor does it look or sound like the gentle white Heavenly Father who appears in all of our church art. A few verses: verse eight: God covered the heavens with clouds, prepared the rain for the earth and makes the grass grow upon the mountains. God gives beasts food and even makes sure that the young ravens who cry out are also fed. God doesn't really delight in the strength of the horse and he doesn't take pleasure in the legs of a man. Verse 11: God takes pleasure in those that hope for mercy. God makes peace at the borders and fills our bellies with the most delicious wheat. God gives snow like wool and scatters frost, like ashes. God is icy cold casting ice like morsels. Verse 18: With each word out of God's mouth, God melts everyone around them. God causes the winds to blow and the waters to flow. And I hope that what we can see is kind of twofold here. Not only do we have these creative conceptions of God, but, like Channing was saying, we also have this emphasis placed on nature and poetry showing up in this psalm. And what I see in this chapter is a God who is incredibly connected to the Earth. A God who is concerned with all life, not just human life. I see a God who gets pleasure, like, what a powerful word, who gets pleasure from being merciful. I see a God who wants to fill my belly and isn't concerned about man's legs, which, like, I don't actually even know what that means. So I don't really understand what it means for a God who doesn't delight in the strength of a horse and doesn't take pleasure in the legs of a man. I am unsure what that means, but if you have the confidence to write to your God, this week, what would they look like? What would they do? What would they care about and how would they act? And maybe if you need a bit of inspiration, you'll turn to any of the Psalms that we've covered over the last three weeks to figure out your relationship with God and who that God might be.

Channing: [00:18:46] Ah, so beautiful. Friends, thank you for joining us for this week's episode. We hope you enjoyed it and we'll see you again next week. Bye!

Elise: [00:19:01] 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 review on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us. 

Channing: [00:19:20] Financial donations support the many hours of research, work, and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as the faithful feminists. We are deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends!

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