I am still drawn to the psalms after a decade of reading them each morning. This is good since I'm preaching on Psalm 42-43 tomorrow. I first encountered the depth of feeling in this psalm when my father was dying of cancer. I couldn't face the fact of his impending death because it felt like I would be giving up on him to admit he was losing his battle with the disease. I was in my 20's and not ready to face loss. (pre-CPE. . .) I remember sitting next to him on the couch and seeing the words, "When shall I behold the face of God?" and realizing they had a very different meaning for him.
The gift of theses two psalms is the psalmist's expression of trust in the Holy One voiced even at a time when God's divine presence cannot be felt. I remember reading that St. Teresa of Avila waiting 18 years, praying everyday and yet experiencing only God's absence. How does one wait 18 years? I think even a day of 'feeling' God is gone would be devastating and yet some of you, like this psalmist, wake up and wonder, "Where is my God?" I know historically this was the taunt of oppressors; the Babylonians who captured the Israelites and deported them to a strange land away from the Temple home of God. And it is still a taunt or maybe a challenge from those who say, "There is no God, how can you believe in a God who would allow. . .disaster, crisis, and death?"
What answer can we give? That we all die? That each day brings us a step closer to death no matter when it comes. Or can we remember the times when God felt near, when we "led the procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving"? Can we look out at the deep of the sea and and look up at towering mountains and see the 'hand' that commands night and day? Such trials are the challenge of faith. They are the hard times. They are times when we need friends to have faith when we cannot. We need friends to believe and to pray when we have lost our ability to do so. These times make the strongest case for Christian community or any community of faithful response to the Almighty.
The Brethren's Pietist roots fall short of our Anabaptist, community-oriented roots when a crisis of faith hits home because we need each other. It is only in the company of someone who will sit with you and bear the presence of God for you, that brings hope into the experience of divine absence. With a friend by your side perhaps you can say,
"Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God for I shall again praise him, my help and my God."