Psalm 31 is a profoundly moving testament to the full experience of being human. Fear, anger, grief, hatred, love and hope play out as a kaleidoscope of emotions. What may be most valuable is how the psalmist gives voice to the experience of shame, the hidden emotion that is the root of so much suffering in our world. Many psychologists believe that shame is at the root of so many acts of destruction, whether it is self-inflicted (cutting, anorexia, bulimia, suicide) or inflicted on others, such as bullying, domestic violence and terrorism. ( See Joseph Burgo's article on Terrorism, the Sociopath and Shame for a concise overview of this topic).
I have altered very little in the opening of Psalm 31. As I read it this morning, I lit a candle for all the places where shame has cast its dark shadow, in my own life and in the world. I wish I had known this poem by heart as a bespectacled eight year old girl, when the neighborhood teenaged boys threw rocks at me, calling out "Four Eyes" and "Ugly Face". As these memories came to me, I re-wrote the end of the psalm to be in the voice of a bullied child. The psalm ends with a coda: a prayer for transmutation. I deeply believe that much of the great works of art, music and poetry of the world are transmutations of the fear, pain, grief and shame we have known. Beethoven is my hero in this regard. He was himself an abused child suffering from chronic physical pain and frequent social humiliation, yet he turned to his own personal agonies for the basis of his musical expression, transforming them to become hymns of hope for a hurting world . (Listen to my lecture on how the Ninth Symphony does just that here)
A Psalm for Shame
Responsory to Psalm 31 by Kayleen Asbo
In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold;
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
for you are my tower of strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you will redeem me,
O God of truth.
I hate the suffering my enemies inflict on me
and I put my trust in You.
I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy;
for You have seen my affliction;
You know my distress.
You will not shut me up in the power of this pain;
You will set my feet on a pathway of protection.
Have mercy on me for I am in trouble;
my eyes are consumed with sorrow,
my throat aches and my stomach is knit with fear.
My life is wasted with sorrow,
and years with weeping
my strength fails me and my heart hurts
I have become a target for all my enemies and
even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those in my classroom;
when they see me in the schoolyard they avoid me.
I am mocked like a dead animal
I am as helpless as a bird with a broken wing.
I have heard the whispering of the crowd;
and fear has gripped my heart.
They put their heads together against me;
they plot to break my bones.
But I will trust in You,
I am in Your care.
Rescue me from the hand of my bullies
from those who throw stones at me.
Make your face to shine upon me;
in your loving-kindness save me."
O God, answer me when I call upon you;
Silence the lips of the wicked
May they no more shout out to me
with cruelty and contempt.
O God, show me the path of light and hope.
Lead me to those who will shelter and protect me.
Give me the strength to grow and heal
Help me find a vessel of beauty
Into which I can pour this pain
And transform it with Your grace
into something good.
To help eradicate the suffering that is so omnipresent in schools, my friend Nicholas Carlisle started No Bully - learn more about this worldwide organization that is having a great impact here.