Scripture: Psalm 88
Key verse: (18) “Friend and neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion.”
Reflection: There is only one psalm of lament in the Christian canon that does not make what scholars call the “turn to hope.” Plenty of psalms give us language for describing all aspects of human experience, and they do not parse words, but eventually, most of them turn again to declaring God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, or trust in God’s presence. Psalm 88 does not. God doesn’t appear at the end of the psalm. Instead, it ends with an expression of deep isolation and despair. “Darkness is my only companion,” the psalmist declares, and leaves it at that.
To say that the appearance of such a raw and unresolved confession might bring with it a measure of encouragement might sound strange, but I am grateful for this moment in scripture that makes room for all those who have ever felt that darkness is their only companion. Too often the church has been a place where people have felt the need to minimize or deny their suffering, rather than a place where they can find companionship for the journey. Another way to say this might be to say that, while some of us might be able to pray along with Psalm 139, “When I make my bed in Sheol (hell), you are there” (When I’m really going through it, I know God is with me), while others might pray more in line with Psalm 88, “Darkness is my only companion” (I feel utterly alone in this struggle) – and that there needs to be room in the church for both confessions to be met with compassion. Sometimes, it is easy to confess faith in God even in the midst of a struggle, and sometimes we need to let others hold faith for us as we pour out the honest, raw contents of our hearts, even when they don’t sound all that “faithful”.
In the introduction of her book, Darkness Is My Only Companion, Katherine Greene-McCreight includes the following prayer:
Give to us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering or joy without eyes to see; give us understanding and sympathy; and guard us from selfishness that we may enter into the joys and sufferings of others; use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering; that by our lives we may help others who believe and serve you, and project your light which is the light of life. (HRL Sheppard, 1880-1937)
If there is a call for the wider church in this psalm, perhaps it is to strive to show up for each other in this way, trusting in the One whose love does not let us go.
Prayer: Give me courage, O God, to be honest and open with you and others about my life, so that I might both receive care and be a source of strength to another, in Christ’s name. Amen.
Author: Anna Dickson
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].