This year, for my lectio divina practice, I’ve been slowly reading through the Psalms (very slowly — I’m only on #56). As any readers of these ancient songs will notice, they display a somewhat schizophrenic split between beautiful lines of praise celebrating a loving relationship with God, and hate-filled, violent passages invoking death to the psalmist’s human enemies.
People have dealt with this in different ways. The more morally palatable way is to reframe the invective as a metaphor for something in the inner life. Alongside my traditional translation, I’ve been reading Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying, in which she uses different language to eliminate the hate and vengefulness, usually rendering “enemies” as “fears.” This produces some lovely and consoling results, but I’m still not quite satisfied. What was going on there? How can this hateful rhetoric form the basis of a religion of love?
My word for 2022, “Connect,” reminds me of my own relationship with people whom I have considered enemies. In childhood, my default strategy was to disconnect from any person I felt was threatening me, retreating into my hideout just like David into his cave, and similarly stewing with thoughts of judgment and blame against my attackers. I might not actually pray for them to be killed by a vindicating God, but the energy was the same.
The problem was that more and more I became disconnected from nearly everybody this way. Nobody can be perfectly inoffensive all the time, and my hyper-sensitivity to hurt was cutting me off even from people who could have been my friends, if I were not so fragile and unable to navigate the ups and downs of human relationship. Something had to change. I tried, but could only get so far without the challenge of true intimacy.
Marriage provided the requisite trials. When I felt hurt by my husband, I retreated and stewed away within part of myself, while remaining closely connected, even unfreely bound to him, with another part. Such a schizophrenic situation could not last. In time, there was an explosion, that thankfully ended with our working out the misunderstandings and coming to a new level in our relationship. It could easily have gone another way, but thanks to our own underlying good will and a large dose of divine mercy, we were saved to live and love together.
David and all the psalmists lived in a time when the ego was still coming to know itself and perhaps needed to push against “enemies” in order to feel its own independence. But at some point, that had to change. Humanity will disintegrate and self-destruct if we cannot overcome this false dichotomy between self and other. I have to come to realize that I can’t love God and hate my human enemy, because God is in all human beings. The “I” which is a divine gift to me lives equally in all people.
David often seems to me like a petulant child, complaining about people bad-mouthing and lying to him, instead of trying to understand and make peace with them. But I have to remember that he lacked the tools present to us today, tools of knowledge and skill that have brought reconciliation and healing to many warring couples and larger groups, reconnecting them, bringing hope for the future. Although there seems a long way to go in this regard, and there are so many sad examples also of war still being chosen as the solution to human conflict, I think we have to celebrate the really quite remarkable fact that we have evolved another way.
We need to build on this, and it begins not on a global scale, but with our own most personal choices and closest relationships. Even in my own most private thoughts and feelings, can I choose peace every day? Can I resolve, unilaterally, to know I am connected even to the people and entities I long to despise and distance myself from? It’s a challenge, but I believe it is the only way forward.
And so, connect. It’s a word not just for one year, but for my whole life. I’ll still be practicing it for a long time to come.