Loving God 301, Part 11: Unfiltered Emotion – Psalm 137

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Lust, greed, rage, fear, jealousy, scorn…  What do we do when such passions surge (as they inevitably will)? For many people of faith striving to grow in love and compassion, the immediate temptation is suppression: force the thought from our mind and tighten the inner security to make sure they never come back.

It’s an understandable strategy, but one doomed to failure. Impulses are beyond the control of the will, and every psychologist (and saint and spiritual director) will tell us that denial of emotion never promotes true health.

Strange as it may sound, the necessary work of growth is to make peace with our impulses, to understand them and why they are being stirred. Only then can loving action flow from within us.

The great news is that while we may struggle to believe this – that giving voice to our basest impulses is an act of love and health – God beckons us to do so, not least by use of the psalms.

In this episode we examine Psalm 137, which contains perhaps the most disturbing of all example of a soul crying out in unbridled rage and vengeance.  All thought of compassion is absence, only the hope that someone (God?) will bring unbearable suffering to the enemy.  And in it we can take comfort, because  its presence in the scriptures is assurance that our most seemingly sinful impulses can be brought to God.

Now matter how passionate and “inappropriate” our impulses may be, we would be hard pressed to outdo Psalm 137 for base emotion and sinful desire.  If God can not only receive such prayer (and the one who prayed it!), but leave it for us as a model, we can take heart that we, too, are welcome in all our deepest honesty.  Indeed what better place to be fully ourselves than with God who can transform our impulses in grace?