Torah 2 Samuel 12:15b–23
Writing Psalm 137
Prophet Amos 8:1–12
Gospel Luke 8:49–56
There are numerous stories of David that are, by necessity, not able to be included in this Lenten journey through the via negativa. We conclude the story of David with the story of the death of David and Bathsheba’s child. The amazing honesty with which David accepts the child’s death shows us the embrace of darkness that the via negativa teaches us is so essential.
In addressing this text it will be helpful not to ignore the fact that this story suggests the death of the child was God’s will. The point can be raised forthright, and then one can point out that this speaks of a common misunderstanding in David’s time, and no longer the way we see things. There is nothing wrong with confronting such passages of scripture – indeed, they provide excellent opportunities for reminding ourselves that the Bible is an ancient book and its stories are to be read in their historic context.
Psalm 137 could be described as the quintessential via negativa psalm. Indeed, to confront its presence in the canon – or at least verses 8 and 9 – and embrace the pain and difficulty they connote can be by and of itself an experience of the via negativa. Yet confront them we must, for they are a genuine sentiment, the cry of one who has suffered injustice and experienced first hand that all is not right with the world.
It can be risky – even downright dangerous – to read a text like Psalm 137 in an era of racial and inter-religious violence. There is no doubt that it is inflammatory. But it is also real.
Such a psalm reminds us of our sacred right, and duty, to be perfectly honest with God when we are in prayer. It does not invite us to curse others, or invoke God’s wrath, but to confront our honest feelings and share them with God, that we might throw them in the fire and so create warmth and light that could even be shared with those we might formerly have named as enemies.
It is a text that reminds us of the need for lament, of the need to utter our true pain from the depths of the soul, that it might not fester but find full expression. This is one of the gifts of the via negativa, that we can pour out such grief and pain and even anger, secure in the knowledge that God not only forgives us but, when we are honest and open, prevents us from bringing such feelings to full fruition before it is too late.
Along with this psalm we read a passage without hope from Amos, and this in turn is balanced with one of sheer hope and amazement from Luke. Jesus dares to confront a group of mourners, incurs their derision, touches a dead body, “wastes” his time with a non-person (female child) and does what he does best: restores life, and affirms personhood.
copyright © 2006, 2009 Donald Schmidt “Taken from Emerging Word: a Creational Spirituality Lectionary by Donald Schmidt. Copies are available from him.”