Ps 69:19-22 – despair
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
In today's psalm we hear the psalmist complaining about the shame he is subjected to as the result of cruel and heartless people. 'I am scorned, disgraced and shamed,' he writes. Is there any worse feeling than the rejection and worthlessness that is the experience of shame. Brene Brown, who is an expert on shame, has written, 'Shame is the most powerful master emotion. It's the fear that we're not good enough.' Could it be that the threat of physical violence is not the only of Saul's attack's on David? Could it be that he subjects David to a campaign of public shaming? I honestly don't know if that is the experience that leads to the creation of this psalm. But I do know that feeling that we are not good enough is a terrible thing. And I know that the powerful then and now will often use character attacks, or public shaming, to discredit those who criticize or oppose them.
Our own experiences of shame are not necessarily public or as dramatic as what I have just imagined. Shame can take us in its grip when we speak before thinking, when we respond emotionally to stress and say or do something hurtful and outside our character. Brown further explains that "the difference between shame and guilt is the difference between 'I am bad' and 'I did something bad.' " Some feel shame because a disease or chronic illness necessitates care and causes a loss of independence. Some carry shame because they have failed to live up to some high standard put upon them by parents, teachers, or preachers. Theologically shame is an insidious form of idolatry because when we experience shame we are allowing some other authority to call us 'worthless,' when the God who created us has already, according to Genesis, called all creation good.
Henri Nouwen has said, "The real 'work' of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. Nouwen places the word work in quotations marks, perhaps to remind us that prayer, in this sense, isn't work, but a gift. But when we couple Nouwen's lesson on prayer as listening to a loving voice and one final Brene Brown Quote, we come to understand how complaint is a spiritual practice that rescues us from shame. Brown writes, 'Shame derives its power from being unspeakable...If we speak shame it begins to wither.' And this is exactly what we see in the Psalm for today. Perhaps we do not hear the specific details of the psalmists shame, but we do hear the psalmist admitting aloud, to God, the shame he feels. And as he speaks, the shame withers. Perhaps this is the best understanding of why confession, although not a formal or traditional part of Baptist theology or practice, is something worth exploring. When we ashamed, we feel isolated and alone, trapped and powerless. We are worthless. When we speak, when we share with someone, someone whom we trust to love us, the shame loses its hold. We are no longer trapped in feeling worthless, but loved, just as we are and loved into something new. 'I will praise God's name in song,' the psalmist soon after complaining about shame concludes. 'I will glorify him with thanksgiving.' Complaining about shame renders it powerless and frees the psalmist to once again experience joy. He is once again reassured of his value, that he is God's beloved.
One final note and perhaps warning. When the early church read this psalm, they saw the crucifixion of Jesus. Religious and politically powerful and influential people not only misrepresented him, arrested and tortured him, but shamed him as well. The cross was a dishonorable and shameful way to die. His friends has abandoned and denied knowing him. The fear that shame is, that we are worthless, was visited upon him. It was visited upon him because he befriended Samaritans, and healed the sick, because he fed the poor and criticized religious and political leaders. He was shamed because he was an advocate for all the vulnerable and the rejected and hated. He was shamed because he would not leave or forsake them. And he has called us to this shameful cross. Sometimes following Jesus means that we knowingly accept the shame of welcoming the disdained, ignored and shamed into our beloved community. And that is a challenging thing for us to consider.
Prayer - Remind us in prayer, today, loving God, that we are your beloved. Teach us that we have not earned it, nor are we more worthy than others to be beloved. Let us in this moment bask in the free gift of your merciful and unfailing acceptance. And let that love not only humble us so that we do not join in the shaming and scorning of others, but also protect us from the fear that would keep us from welcoming outcasts into our community or going to stand with the rejected in their time of need.