Vol 3:8 Missional Journey: Lent – A Time for Embracing Being Disoriented

As a Mennonite community, the community I pastor, we are embarking on a journey throughout Lent in which we seek to focus on Psalms of Disorientation and Reorientation. Walter Brueggemann is the one who gives voice to this understanding of the Psalms (cf. Praying the Psalms, Spirituality of the Psalms) and expresses that the Psalms of Lament are meant to disorient us.

Brueggemann expresses that lament language is evocative, rather than descriptive (cf. Praying the Psalms, pp. 29ff).

“The function of such lament speech is to create a situation that did not exist before the speech, to create an external event that matches the internal sensitivities. It is the work of such speech to give shape, power, visibility, authenticity to the experience. The speaker now says, ‘It is really like that. That is my situation.’ The listener knows, ‘Now I understand fully your actual situation in which you are at work dying to the old equilibrium that is slipping from you.’ The language may even run ahead of the event. Ricoeur (to whom much of this discussion is indebted), following Freud, has seen that the authentic artist is not focusing on old events for review (after the manner of the analyst) but is in fact committing to an act of hope. Art therapists know that persons who draw and paint are not simply announcing the old death but are choosing a future they are yet to embrace. Thus the lament Psalms of disorientation do their work of helping people to die completely to the old situation, the old possibility, the old false hopes, the old lines of defense and pretense, to say as dramatically as possible, ‘That is all over now.’

When we hear someone speak desperately about a situation, our wont is to rush in and reassure that it is not all that bad. And in hearing these Psalms, our natural, fearful yearning is to tone down the hyperbole, to deny it for ourselves and protect others from it because it is too harsh and, in any case, is an overstatement. And likely we wish to hold on a bit to the old orientation now in such disarray. Our tendency to such protectiveness is evident in the way churches ignore or ‘edit’ these ‘unacceptable’ Psalms.

Our retreat from the poignant language of such a Psalm is in fact a denial of the disorientation and a yearning to hold on to the old orientation that is in reality dead. Thus an evangelical understanding of reality affirms that the old is passing away, that God is bringing in a newness (2 Cor. 5:17). But we know also that there is no newness unless and until there is a serious death of the old (cf. John 12:25, 1 Cor. 15:36). Thus the lament Psalms of disorientation can be understood, not in a theoretical but in a quite concrete way as an act of putting off the old humanity that the new may come in (cf. Eph. 4:22-24)” (Praying the Psalms, pp. 30-31).

Lent is more than a time of expressing sorrow for our sinfulness, it is indeed to be a missional journey requiring courage to embrace disorientation so that we might be reoriented to a new way of being human, particularly a new way of being human as exemplified by Jesus, and so being demonstrative of what God’s redemptive mission seeks to bring about in all of creation.

So often we regress from such a missional journey by succumbing to the temptation of going back to our old orientations. When we are disoriented we want to go back to the way things were – no matter how bad they might have been because at least we know what to expect, rather than looking forward to a future we have no idea about. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we would rather go back to Egypt and slavery, than to head out in the desert, discover what it means not to be in control of our lives, learn dependence upon the Spirit of God – and through this journeying, even if it takes 40 years, be reoriented to a new way of being human in relationship with God, trusting God, open to God’s participation in our lives, and open to participating in the life of God and in God’s mission in the world.

Reorientation can never come through our holding onto our old orientations – they will only rot in our hands. Reorientation can only come through the dying of our old orientations as we dare to journey through our being disoriented. Resurrection life only comes after death, it can never come by way of clinging to ways of living that can never result in newness of life.

Therefore, Lent is a time not to conserve what we have nor a time to hold onto our mere perceptions of life, but, rather Lent is a time to dare to journey with the Spirit of God, to allow the Spirit to lead us out into the desert, to experience, even embrace, disorientation rather than fighting it, so that we might be open to seeing our old orientations for what they are – dead – as we come to a new place of being reoriented to the life of God in us – and grow, mature, in becoming human in ways that we are only able as we identify with Jesus Christ and live in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

May we this Lent embark on a journey that embraces death, but reorients and leads us into life.

iMissional.org | Roland Kuhl