Everyone knows there are good days and there are bad days. Sometimes we hear people say, “life has its ups and downs.” We probably learn this lesson pretty early in life. Actually, I think little kids experience the reality of life’s ups and downs even before they have language to explain it. But they know it deep in the core of their beings.
I am also sure that most of us conclude early on that there is not much we can do about those “downs” in life. Of course, some of those less than desirable periods are of our own making. We do stupid things and pay the price. But there are other “downers” in life that come our way and we are no more than sitting ducks for malady. We get sick and sometimes suffer. I know no person who gets up and says, “boy I hope I get really sick today!” But clearly not a day goes by when someone in the world does not experience the unfortunate sickness.
We know that not all illnesses are sickness of the body. For sure, there are flu seasons, heart attacks, and cancer assaulting people every day all around our globe. Live long enough and you will die. We all know this. We also know there are some illnesses that are not bodily, but more psychological or even sickness of the soul. Ask anyone who is severely depressed and we can learn this problem is just as debilitating as cancer. And I am as sure as I can be; there are also sicknesses of the soul. Depression is a psychological phenomenon. Its spiritual corollary is called melancholy. That is not a word one hears much, but it is real. Melancholy is essentially depression of the soul. It is an aimless soul, a lost soul. Melancholic souls do not normally have good days!
So is that the way it is and we simply have to deal with it? In some sense the answer is “yes.” Sometimes we cannot do anything about our malady. It is hard to heal oneself from cancer or get over depression and get beyond melancholy. Fortunately there are times of healing. But healing is never a guarantee.
We all know that our attitude has much to do with how we deal with those “down days.” But I will attest, changing one’s attitude is not always easy. I can laugh at myself when I go to the doctor’s office. Frequently I am told, “don’t worry.” “Too late,” I say, “I’m already worried!” It is as if my attitude slips right out of my control. Without knowing how it happened, my attitude has me!
There is one alternative that I always find helpful. It is a spiritual move. I know I can always do it, even if I also know it is not magical. It won’t necessarily heal me. It may not even cause an attitudinal change. It makes me feel better. And more importantly, it always gives me hope. I was reminded of all of this when I read the morning lectionary and found these refreshing words from Psalm 36.
Psalm 36 opens with some depressing words about human beings facing evil and hard times. But by the middle of the Psalm, we find this wonderful spiritual imagery. The first line affirms, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God!” When we are having one of “those days,” it is refreshing to know that God’s steadfast love is there. To me this means ultimately things will be ok. Ultimately there is only healing and wellness.
The next line always makes me smile. The Psalmist assures me that “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” If it is “all people,” then I am included. I can’t lose. I cannot be discounted. If I am sick, depressed or melancholic, it does not matter. I get to slide under those divine wings, too. I can be safe and secure. Ultimately I am out of harm’s way.
The next couple lines add more fascinating imagery. We move from under the divine wings to the house. The Psalmist is exuberant when he says, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” That complex line is brimming with imagery. The verb is “feast.” Feasting is not usually the verb of sickness. We get to feast on the abundance of the divine house. It is as if God throws open the door to the mansion and says, “Come in…it’s all yours!
And if we want to go out back, then we can drink from the river of God’s delights. Talk about a deal! Feasting and drinking become more than we can imagine. But it is true.
Finally there is yet another dramatic imagery shift. The Psalmist says of God, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Now we are promised the very fountain of life. Sickness often feels like desert and aridity. We are taken to desolate places of body and soul. And yet, in this very place we are given the wonderful imagery of the fountain of life and light from the very Light Itself. For this light I am always grateful. Sometimes it is literally the promise of help in the middle of my hell.