Thursday, August 21, 2008

When Labor Day is Every Day: Praying Psalm 18

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help (Psalm 18:6).

For reasons that I don’t fully understand, the school my children attend doesn’t begin the year until well after everyone else around here. Yes, there are plenty of colleges that don’t begin the fall semester until sometime in mid-September, but if you’re not old enough to drive in the city of Atlanta you’re usually catching a bus or being dropped off at the carpool line before Labor Day. In many cases, long before Labor Day.

But not so for us. Class begins next week. All the summer activities that gave my kids something to do during the day are now a fading memory. No day camps, no VBS, no family trips. Here we are. Waiting. Marnie and I have both had to be in the office this week, so we’ve relied heavily on the good graces of Grandpam and Grandy, Mimi and Papa. Summer has indeed run its course. My kids are bored and ready to go back to school.

This is that time of the summer that finds me making jokes about desperately yearning for school to start, craving some structure and the freedom that comes with knowing my children are in a closely supervised environment from 8:00 to 3:00, occupied with something other than that demon-birthed cartoon network. I feign weariness in my remarks and laugh at the grind of a summer that won’t seem to end. Parents get it and commiserate with me, laughing at my lame jokes about it all.

It all seemed a little less funny this morning when I opened my email and found the monthly newsletter from World Vision. I opened the main page and saw a headline for one of the articles. The global food crisis means that children who should be going to school are instead going to work, often in dangerous conditions. Across the globe there are an estimated 218 million laborers between the ages of 5 and 17.

And I speak of back-to-school as if my own convenience is what really matters. I just assume that school is where kids will be once we’ve celebrated Labor by sleeping in and grilling burgers by the pool. It never occurs to me that there are children for whom labor day is every day. Western privilege makes rich man Divies of me and I don’t even know it.

I didn’t read the entire article right away. I have this nasty habit in the mornings of going to my email before going to my Bible. I closed the newsletter, the reality of children who work to eat sitting heavy in my brain, and tried to give my attention to Psalm 18, the assigned Psalm for this week.

I’ve struggled with Psalm 18. It’s long. That’s a pathetic thing to say, but I have to push myself through those 50 verses. At times the language is strange on my tongue, violent and vengeful and then suddenly speaking of "my righteousness" and how God deals with me according to "my blamelessness." Apart from Jesus, there’s no way anyone can really pray Psalm 18 with a straight face.

But after seeing the World Vision newsletter, the words of the Psalmist sounded different. They meant something different. I began to understand this morning that the prayer has nothing to do with me. I prayed Psalm 18 for children around the world who can’t afford enough food and who get up every day to work 11 hour shifts in mines and who will not go to school next week. The Psalm allowed me to say more than “God please bless those children and help them find food to eat.”

Psalm 18 gave language for crying out against enemies and oppressors. The Psalm verbalized the distress and the sense of being swallowed by death, and that would include the death of starvation. The Psalm affirmed that God hears and praised God who is our strength and help and confidence.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is quoted as having said that “those who will not cry out for the Jews cannot sing Gregorian chant.” If we cannot stand up and stand with those who suffer, our words of praise whether spoken or sung are empty. We are only posturing as we pray.

So I am thankful for Psalm 18. I think that tomorrow it will not be so hard to make my way through those 50 verses. I will pray the Psalm for those afflicted by disease and hunger and corrupt governments and evil people. And next week, when I drop my kids off for that first day of School, I won’t simply be relieved. I will be truly thankful.

1 comment:

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