January 29, 2012 Psalm 13 –Surviving The Blues
Dt. 18:15-22 Psalm 13 1 Cor. 8:1-13 Mark 1:21-28
The iconic movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, has come to be synonymous with any situation that repeats itself over and over with seemingly no resolution, where no one has a recollection of having done this before, said this before, except the main character. It has been aptly applied to situations in Congress over the last few years as they keep enacting the same battles without any real resolution. They continue to play out the same game over the budget and the deficit, kicking the can to the next year and the next without making any real progress.
In the movie, Murray’s character, Phil Connors, a cynical weatherman, is forced to live the same day, Feb. 2, over and over again, caught in a time warp. Only he recognizes that he has done this before. Once he recognizes what is happening, he starts to use his knowledge to his advantage, turning it almost into a game where he uses what he learns one time to take advantage of the situation the next time. He can do whatever he wants knowing there will be no consequences; he will wake up the next morning with a clean slate. He goes through the gamut from meaningless sexual encounters, stealing, reckless driving and suicide attempts to learning to play the piano and learning French with his seemingly unending amount of time. He finally decides to pursue love, to use what he knows to better the lives of others and himself. It is only after he is truly changed through his relationship with Rita (McDowell) that the spell of endless Groundhog Days is broken and he is able to move forward. It is a story of redemption, finding what is most important in life, the benefit of doing good rather than evil. Even though he could do evil each day and not face the consequences, he experienced no long-term benefit from these actions but rather found that being/doing good was its own reward.
Dealing with individuals with Alzheimer’s, especially during the early and middle stages, can feel like the movie, Groundhog Day. You keep answering the same questions, repeating the same scenario, over and over again, with no resolution, no remembrance on the part of your loved one that you had already explained this repeatedly. It can be a frustrating situation as you feel not only that you are getting nowhere fast, but even worse, you are losing ground as you know that as the disease progresses it will get worse rather than better. The time you spend thoroughly explaining something feels wasted when you have to answer the same question over and over again. There seems no redemption as you are trapped with your loved one in this downward spiral, just as Bill Murray’s character was trapped in repeating the same day.
Family members and caregivers learn to be creative in dealing with such circumstances, as Murray’s character became creative in his situation. They may use humor and diversions as the disease progresses rather than repeating themselves, knowing their loved one won’t remember. Still it is a frustrating situation that can be depressing, this feeling of being stuck, of getting nowhere fast or taking two steps backward for every step forward. I know that I like to feel a sense of accomplishment, that what I’m doing serves a purpose, that I am going somewhere, moving forward in my life. I can get pretty frustrated when I feel I’m not getting anywhere or worse, going backwards.
At Christmas time we looked at repetitions that bring delight. These are not such repetitions, these are repetitions that can bring depression and despair as we despair of ever getting anything accomplished.
Our psalm for today is a very simple one, a lament. It follows the normal structure of a lament, with a complaint, vs. 1-2, an appeal, vs. 3-4, and an expression of confidence in God’s help, vs. 5-6. There is a beauty in its simplicity and sincerity of expression. John Calvin selected it as one of the eighteen psalms he chose to have set to music for public worship. Scottish theologian Marcus Dods wrote: “If you can direct me to anything more exquisite than the 13th Psalm, I will follow your direction with a happiness not often attached to earthly pursuits.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4, pp. 72)
We don’t know the specific source of the writer’s distress. We do know that it was a very heavy burden that had been going on for a long time, and that there were some who took delight in his troubles. “Without pause or pity, by night as well as by day, fears and foes press so hard on him that the strength of his body is failing and death appears to be imminent. In the situation he is perplexed by the seemingly prolonged indifference of God to his appeal for help, and harassed by the thought that in his downfall his enemies would see both a triumph for themselves and a confutation of the creed to which he has witnessed.” (p. 72) Not only will his enemies triumph, all of his life work will be as nothing.
How long, is repeated four times, indicating the severity of his troubles. God appears to have forgotten all about him, has even hidden his face from him. He is in pain and his enemies are rejoicing over him. His condition is so bad that he feels he is close to death. All signs point to depression.
When caught in the cycle of depression it can be hard to remember that life wasn’t always this way, that there have been good times. The depression feels like it has gone on forever and there was never a time of happiness that we can remember. It colors our present as well as our past as the past is seen through a cloud of misery and robs the future of hope. We can feel trapped with no way out. But even in depression, even when dealing dementia/Alzheimer’s, there is redemption, there is hope. The writer doesn’t remain in despair but puts his trust in the Lord, his steadfast love. He trusts in the sun even when the night is blackest. Not only that, his trust is such that he is moved to song, he rejoices in his God, “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
Where does this hope come from? Deuteronomy reading, Moses speaks to his people, how God will continue to raise up prophets among them to speak God’s word to them. He gives them instructions how to recognize a true prophet. The greatest prophet of all was Jesus Christ, who spoke with authority, was recognized by the demons and who was able to cast out demons as we see in our gospel for today.
In 1 Corinthians passage, Paul speaks of love, how knowledge puffs, but love builds up. It was love that brought Phil Connors out of the endless cycle of meaningless repetition, love that brought him out of himself and his own selfish ways and into redemption. It is love that can help us break out of the cycle of despair, love and concern for others rather than over-focusing on our own troubles.
Jesus casts out unclean spirits in his time and can cast out the unclean spirits in our own lives, spirits of despair, depression, selfishness, fear. We all have bad days, for some those days go on longer than for others. If our self-worth is tied up in accomplishments, getting ahead, then what are we to do when we are no longer able to do what we once did, when we are losing abilities rather than gaining? If our self-worth is tied up in being beloved children of God, then even when we lose our abilities, when we are stuck in frustrating cycles, when we have nothing to look forward to but more loss, we will be able to rise above despair. We will be able to see our losses in this life as gain in our spiritual life as it brings us closer to our God.
Hope spring eternal, it is present amidst the winter snow, hope for spring, hope for new life arising out of the old. As Robert Corin Morris says in his article in Weavings: “Worse, the self-indulgence of despair takes energy away from the real call of Jesus, which is to look keenly and expectantly for signs of hope—signs of the inrushing energies of God’s kingdom. Self-imposed despair can even block the never-ending hope that flows from God, in whom hope has its origin . . . The God of always-springing hope has our backs when we are tempted to hopelessness, and is both the ground and goal of our deepest hopes.” (Weavings, vol. XXVII, 1, pp. 5-6) This God can turn winter depression into spring song. He did it for the psalmist, and he can do it for us.
Robertson, Copyright January 2012