Sometimes, I Just Sits

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”  My sister Jan still reminds me of the phrase’s importance.  Emblazoned on a poster that hung in our basement when we were kids, the words were accompanied by a rocking chair in the background.  Jan quotes it from time to time.  I have tended to smile, nod, and reminisce—until studying Psalm 77.  The psalmist uses six different words, in five different verses, eleven different times for think, consider, ponder, remember, and reflect.  Here the reader stops, sits, and thinks.  In the case of this ancient song, the writer moans, a word that crescendos through turbulent times.[1]

“Would you like a little whine with that cheese?!” is sometimes the response of some unfeeling souls who have suffered little.  But for the afflicted, moaning turns to complaint and protest.  Preoccupied with the hard situation, Psalm 77:3, 6, and 12 all use the meditative word for one’s pained response: a sigh.[2] But suffering is not one and done.  Memories are dredged up from the situational cesspool.  Better days are compared and found wanting.[3] Even so, at least his cries lead to a search.[4] And in the end, First Testament writers connect remembrance to reflection.[5] So how should we reflect on bad times, bad people, and bad situations?

Psychology, wrapped in Western pragmatism, desires to find an answer to our problems.  Most analyses of our person by both Christians and non-Christians are centered in a works righteousness perspective.  We have to do something for resolution.  Scripture, contrary to human-centered thought, finds us sitting, without any other recourse, but to wait.  We do nothing.  For a culture that “tends to value production over process,” reflection assumes the need for quiet time “without the constant pressure to produce.”[6]

In The Wounded Leader Ackerman and Maslin-Ostrowski identify reflection as an alternative to action response.  Writing one’s story provides healing.[7] We need to “get it out”.  The psalmist “got it out,” wrote it down, expressed his thought, communicating the passionate purpose of his agony.  “Sometimes I sits and thinks” is the importance of taking time, as the psalmist did, to write our narrative.

Significance also rests in noticing the first person singular all the way through the first part of the Psalm.  “I cried,” “I groaned,” “I was too troubled to speak.”  Now notice the transition to the second person singular.  The Psalmist decides, “It’s not about me.  It’s about You.”[8] Ultimately, we have no other recourse, no other answer, than to leave what we carry at “the court of appeals”.  It is the waiting that is most difficult.

Patience is not my virtue.  But Rainer Maria Rilke has been slowly changing my mind.

“…to await humbly and patiently the hour of the descent of a new clarity: that alone is to live one’s art, in the realm of understanding as in that of creativity.  In this there is no measuring with time.  A year doesn’t matter; ten years are nothing.  To be an artist means not to compute or count; it means to ripen as the tree, which does not force its sap, but stands unshaken in the storms of spring with no fear that summer might not follow. It will come regardless. But it comes only to those who live as though eternity stretches before them, carefree, silent, and endless. I learn it daily, learn it with many pains, for which I am grateful: Patience is all!”[9]

If the artist and poet see waiting as ripening, how much more should I?!  Christian theology is clear.  There is a God.  I am not Him.  God is responsible for the story’s conclusion.  I am simply one of the paragraphs in His work.[10]

If “there is no measuring with time” as Rilke reminds us, then how do I read, much less, write about my life?  We must “live as though eternity stretches before us.”  Rilke must have read Psalm 77:10, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’”  What strikes the reader is that The Creator has no “years.”  He is eternal.  Not only is 77:10 the center[11] of the Psalm but it is the only courtroom to which we can bring our case so that it is heard.  We cannot measure our circumstances apart from the eternality of God.  The downside of this is that we may not know any conclusions, have any answers, or even see any justice in our years.  And that is the point.  There is nothing left to think about.  There is no more reflection to be done.  There is nothing left to say.  Pull up a rocking chair and have a seat.  Look at the ways and works of God.[12]

“Sometimes, I just sits.”  I cannot wait to tell my sister.

Mark likes to sit.  He has two favorite chairs: in his office and in front of the projection screen TV in the basement.  The sitting contributes to the thinking.  Dr. Eckel teaches at Crossroads Bible College.

[1] Hamah in verse 3 is a strong word with strong feeling, based on unrest and turbulence, ending in a loud noise.  Carl Philip Weber. 1980. hamah. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 1:219.

[2] Gary G. Cohen. 1980. siyach. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 2:875-76.

[3] Verse 3 directly connects the author’s pain with God.  His spirit is faint, weak.  Verse 6 indicates a comparison with better times.

[4] The Hebrew word is chaphas meaning to check out or trace.  In Psalm 64:6 the word is used 3times—the noun occurs with the pual participle indicating a diligent, deep search, an investigation of everything.  In Psalm 77 the piel suggests concrete situations are in order; there is something specific in our search though it may not be found.  Herbert Wolf. 1980. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 1:312.

[5] Thomas E. McComiskey. 1980. zakar. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 1:241-43.

[6] Robert J. Radcliffe and Julie Gorman. 2001. “Reflection.” Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education. (Baker): 583-84.

[7] Restitution, chaos, and quest are the three major narrative types suggested in Richard H. Ackerman and Paul Maslin-Ostrowski. 2002. The Wounded Leader. (Jossey-Bass, 2002): 95-105.

[8] Note the decisive shift from a focus on “I” (verses 1-13)—16x, 22x with “me, my”—to “You” (verses 11-20)—20x.

[9] Rainer Maria Rilke. 2000. Letters to a Young Poet. (New World Library, revised): 26.

[10] I am not saying thought is unimportant.  I am not saying work is wrong.  I am not saying accomplishment is irrelevant.  I am not saying human effort is unnecessary.  I am not saying suffering is negligible.  I am saying read Job 40:4-5 and 42:1-6.

[11] Verse 10 is the chiasmic center of the Psalm meaning the pinnacle or focal point of Hebraic poetic form.

[12] Psalm 77:10-20.  J. I. Packer said it best: “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God…It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.” J.I. Packer. 1973.  Knowing God. (IVP): 18-19.

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