How long O Lord

by Maria L. Evans

In the wee hours of May 3, at a time of year we’re enjoying the luscious green of the grass, the budding of the wild plums and the redbud trees…it SNOWED.

The latest I have ever remembered it snowing in Northeast Missouri was April, most significantly the Great Easter Blizzard of 1973. Never in May. Allegedly the last time it snowed in Kirksville in May was either 1903 or 1904, I can’t remember which. But no matter, you understand the issue here.

I walked outside to take the dogs out, looked at the sky, shook my finger at the clouds, and yelled at the top of my lungs, “NO! Stop it! You put spring back RIGHT NOW!” Yeah, right. Like THAT had an effect.

Sounds a little bit like “How long, O Lord,” doesn’t it?

If we spent the time to index the Psalter by topic, it doesn’t take long to realize impatience with God is one of the major themes in the Psalms. Elements of “How long, O Lord?” can be found in several Psalms, perhaps most notably in Psalm 13. “How long, O Lord?” addresses a tough topic–our impatience with the time frame for God to reveal what God does–both on a personal and societal level.

Perhaps at a personal level, we most acutely feel it in times of transitions that seem to take too long–when we’re between jobs, when we’re trying to straighten out or finances, or when we’re dealing with a chronic issue in our family dynamics. Why is it that, at times, joy seems to be so fleeting, but misery seems to last forever?

Likewise, at a societal level, we probably most acutely feel it in the wake of tragedies. How long, O Lord, will innocent people fall victim to shootings and bombings? How long, O Lord, will women in the developing world die in childbirth? How long, O Lord, will drunk drivers slam into pedestrians? How long, O Lord, will people use the Bible to foster hate and exclusivity?

Nothing ever seems to move fast enough, and some things don’t seem to move at all. Yet deep down I realize there really have been changes for the better, both in myself, and in the world.

I suppose a lot of that painful anxiety of a sense of inertia has to do with the personal relativity of time. Think of that four-year-old who’s just been put in “time out.” How many times have we heard the pitiful voice in the corner wail, “I’ve been here forever! I’ll be good, just let me out!” over a five minute punishment? I used to think that was just pure drama, but one day the thought crossed my mind, “Well, you know, when a person’s four, five minutes is a much more significant chunk of that kid’s life than it is of mine.”

In the same vein, I imagine a God who hears our petitions and understands our pain and angst and fear, and yearns to help us understand that this difficult thing we are going through is not as big a chunk of time as we think it is. Our entire sphere of experience is confined to our lives we’ve lived up to now.

Take that May snowfall. All day in the office, as people went in and out, the chit-chat was all about the snow. Some were absolutely convinced it’s global warming. Others were divulging their apocalyptic Christian beliefs. Still others were denying global warming and saying “it’s nothing–it’s just the weather.”

When I was asked my opinion, I said, “Well, it’s hard to say, I think. I really do think there’s global warming going on–but I also know that we’ve only been keeping accurate weather records in this country since about the 1880’s. It’s kind of like the blind man and the elephant. We have only this 135 year window to try to figure out what “normal” is in something that’s been going on for millions of years. Really, we can only get a handle on the little cycles of weather. The big ones, not so much.” (I avoided that Apocalypse stuff.)

That’s probably true with God’s plan, too. We can study the cycles in our own life and see in retrospect how God might have been there all along, even though we didn’t see it at the time…and just as we can study the weather records, we can look back at the stories passed on to us through the Bible and see the cycle of Creation, Sin, Judgment, Repentance, and Redemption in the Hebrew people, the people of the early church, and in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We’re not the only one on the planet who had trouble seeing God’s intent at the time something was happening.

The challenge for us in any of these difficulties, personal or societal, is to not get caught up in the tar pit of our despair. For those of us who regularly do some aspect of the Daily Office, it’s a place where the regular reading of the Psalms can help. We cycle through them every seven weeks in the Daily Office, and the mere repetition of that practice offers opportunities for the Psalmist to match our mood more than random chance would seem to suggest. I’ve always been amazed at how often “How long, O Lord?” pops up at a time I’m thinking “How long, O Lord,” myself, or when the “My enemies are ganging up on me,” psalms line up with the times I feel surrounded. Likewise, the Daily Office will cycle back around to the ones with the “Praise God for this, that, and the other,” theme, and when they match my mood, I can shout them with gusto…or when things are rough, they remind me to find something to praise, despite my difficulties. I admit, I’m biased, but it’s why I would recommend doing at least a tiny snippet of the Daily Office every day as a #1 spiritual practice. If it does nothing else, it at least makes me aware of the cycles that make up more cycles that make up the big cycle of a God who both desires justice and gives mercy–and how to discover my role in it.

Ultimately, though, we are back to the blind man and the elephant without the lynchpin of that little thing called faith. Maybe it’s a little less about God “doing something” for us or “stopping something” for us than it is about us learning to see the cycles and trust them in the same way we trust the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, or that even when the snow falls in May in Missouri, the sun will come out and melt it–and that God will provide the courage and the grace to live out today whether things happen on our time frame or not.

What were the cycles in the story behind the last time we looked at the clouds and yelled, “How long, O Lord?”

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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