1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Hebrew Bible scholar and longtime professor of nearby Columbia Theological Seminary, Dr. Walter Brueggemann characterizes the Psalms in three types: Psalms of Orientation, Psalms of Disorientation, and Psalms of New Orientation. Psalms of Orientation emerge from “satisfied seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude for the constancy of blessing.” Psalms of Disorientation emerge from “anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering, and death.” Psalms of New Orientation emerge from “surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through the despair.”
Because our lives are dynamic, we are always moving between these states. Through either change of circumstance or new awareness, our familiar and safe systems break down and our confidence in God is shaken. In faith we voice our anger, confusion, resentment, and guilt, and are astonished to find that even in this place we are met by God. Just when we feel that we should never escape from chaos and despair we are granted a new gift, some new coherence by God and we respond with awe and thanksgiving. The circumstances which led us into disorientation may not be changed, but we are.
The Psalmist of today’s scripture is in the depths of disorientation. The injustice which they see has caused them to question themselves and their outlook. Why do the treacherous prosper and shame those who seek justice? The Psalmist cries out to God and asks to learn God’s ways. They want to know why there is injustice and what they can do to end it. The answer comes subtly in the very character of God: God is merciful and loving; God extended a hand to the Psalmist while they were a sinner. The Psalmist finds that the answer to injustice is to reflect the character of God. To answer treachery with mercy and love because the Psalmist remembers that they were once treacherous. This is new orientation.
Lent is a time when we examine ourselves closely and honestly, wondering what changes we might need to undergo to effect the changes we want to see in our world. This self-examination entails a certain disorientation as we realize that we have work to do, but it is in this place that God meets us and guides us to new orientation. Therefore let us take heart, for the night of Lent is made all the sweeter by Easter morning.
-Ryan Young, Campus Ministry Intern