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Out of the Depths - Psalm 130

A Lent Reflection for Thursday, March 23rd

By Rev. Christy Bouris

Selected passage: Psalm 130


Psalm 130 NRSV Updated Edition

A Song of Ascents.

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

2 Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my supplications!

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

Lord, who could stand?

4 But there is forgiveness with you,

so that you may be revered.

5 I wait for the LORD; my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

6 my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!

For with the LORD there is steadfast love,

and with him is great power to redeem.

8 It is he who will redeem Israel

from all its iniquities.


The words of this psalm transported me back to camp. In college, I spent summers working at a Christian camp and remember learning a new worship song based on this text. As I remembered the song, something struck me. The song began in the same spirit as the text and we sang, “From the depths of woe, I raise to Thee a voice of lamentation.” As you hear these words, what kind of tune would you expect to accompany words like that? Decades after my first introduction to the song, I am newly confounded by the absolutely bizarre arrangement we sang. Imagine singing these words along with a catchy, rhythmic acoustic guitar in a major key with a dancy little rhythm between each verse. Why didn’t it seem off to me then when I was singing words (in the first person!) about crying out from the depths, all while jamming on my guitar leading a room full of clapping teenagers? Why was a text like this - a lament - set to upbeat, fast-paced guitar chords?

Now, in retrospect, I imagine it’s at least partially because the kind of tune that would fit this psalm text would need to be dark, slow, and unresolved. And, as Martin Marty reflects, “Talking about a cry from the depths does not fit into a theology that markets well, as theology is supposed to do today.” Perhaps a different (more appropriate) tune would have been uncomfortable to sing.

That is because being in the depths is uncomfortable, to put it mildly. And witnessing someone else in that place can also be challenging. In our feel-good culture, it’s tempting to present an “I have it all together” picture. And if things aren’t all together, at least we should do our best not to be too much of a Debbie Downer. Since we are taught to “look on the bright side,” hearing someone speak honestly about being in the depths can be striking and unnerving. The psalmist’s words are stark, unfiltered, unapologetic and direct.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

The depths are real—life is deeply beautiful and deeply distressing. Sometimes we don’t have it all together. In these moments, it is tempting to mask our own situation or, when someone else is in the depths, to try to fix their situation. When facing the depths, I’m learning to intentionally pause. To let the depths be what they are. I try not to jump quickly to fixing, alleviating, or moving the conversation along to solutions. I try (and don’t always succeed at) listening to the voices crying from the depths (this includes listening to my own voice!). I try not to be distracted by whatever is accompanying those in the depths - whether it is energetic guitar chords or a friend’s forced optimism. Let’s not distract ourselves or others in the depths. Let’s acknowledge those who are waiting in the depths for morning. Let’s become more comfortable in the uncomfortable depths.

Waiting in the depths is part of life and it is not antithetical to the Christian life. Jesus himself was there. In the wilderness. When he wept. When his friend died. In the Garden of Gethsemane. The psalmist frees us to be in the depths and to cry out, without shame. And with God there is steadfast love in the depths.


Where do you find yourself this Lenten season?

If you find yourself waiting in the depths:

The psalmist’s position and punctuation give you permission to be free. To be honest. With yourself, with others, with God. To cry out! To scream! To swear! It isn’t odd or strange to find yourself in the depths. It’s very human. Release your reality to God without reservation, knowing that with God there is steadfast love. Invitation: find physical space and time today to cry out to God.

If you are on level ground:

Look around. Let’s notice the depths around us. Be with those who are there. Cry out with them! Wait with them with God for the morning while it is still dark. Let’s discipline ourselves to sit in the minor keys that are a part of life. Invitation: consider the depths around you - in your neighborhood, your larger community, in our world. How might you wait with others in the depths?


Redeeming God,

Help us! We are waiting for and with you. Amen.

About the Author

Christy is an ordained pastor and lover of kalamata olives. She continues to hold to her New England roots by drinking water from bubblers while enjoying life with her family in the Midwest. On a good day, you’ll find her sitting in the sun with a warm cup of tea, listening to music next to a good friend.

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melanie myatt
melanie myatt

I have been considering how people want to have a "celebration" instead of a funeral, as it it isn't okay to grieve the loss of a loved one. We need to consider how to support people in their lamenting and how to do it well. Thank you for writing this!

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