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Day 28

Darkness Is My Only Companion
Imagine standing with Jesus, right next to him, in prayer to his Father. Read this passage of praise aloud. As you do so, consider that you are praying along with Jesus, your two voices becoming one as you bless God.  
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity
   who heals all your diseases, 
who redeems your life from the pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)
Psalm 88:10-18 
Do you work wonders for the dead?
   Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
   or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
   or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O LORD, cry to you;
   in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
  Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
   I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
   your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
   they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
   my companions have become darkness.
What Might This Psalm Have Meant to Jesus?
We linger, uncomfortably, for another day with this bleakest of psalms. We stay in that day between Good Friday and Easter. For the disciples, all is lost. The dream has shattered. Hope evaporates. And for Jesus? He has gone where we cannot follow. He is beyond our reach and so outside our 
definite knowledge.
However, Psalm 88, as a prayer of Jesus preparing for Holy Saturday or even one offered from the realm of the dead, opens up what that experience may have been like. The beginning of this section asks whether God’s wonders, love and faithfulness are acknowledged in “the land of forgetfulness.”  These four questions are, of course, rhetorical and express a sense of total loss and abandonment. When the psalmist asks, “Do you work wonders for the dead?” we confirm his desolation. Our minds cry out, “No! Not a chance. God leaves you in darkness. You’ll never get out. You’re a prisoner of death forever.” At this point, we’re all in with the hopelessness.
Although I’m happily a Presbyterian, I do explore insights from other traditions and find that we have much in common with evangelical Catholics. Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, mined great treasures from his studies of Jesus. Concerning Jesus’ sojourn among the dead, he writes:
Holy Saturday is . . . a unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe in which God, in Jesus Christ, not only shared our dying but also our remaining in death—the most radical solidarity.
God, having made himself man, reached the point of entering man’s most extreme and absolute solitude, where not a ray of love enters, where total abandonment reigns without any word of comfort: “hell.” Jesus Christ, by remaining in death, passed beyond the door of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to cross it with Him. . . .
Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness, we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out. Human beings live because they are loved and can love; and if love penetrated even the realm of death, then life also even reached there. In the hour of supreme solitude we shall never be alone. Pope Benedict XVI, The Faith, ed. Paul Thigpen (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2013), pp. 84-85.
Jesus’ descent to the realm of the dead on Holy Saturday assures us that he stays with us through the darkest passages of life and death. This event offers hope to those who have felt “darkness is my only companion.” Depression, grief, disassociation, paranoia and anxiety can all isolate us in hopelessness. That Jesus prays Psalm 88 as one of us, with us and for us, is like someone taking our hand in the dark to lead us gently back to light.
Rhetorical questions are not meant to be answered, much less contradicted. The narrator of Psalm 88 ends, like Jesus, in the realm of the dead, shunned by everyone. Jesus has fully experienced in his soul what happened at his arrest: “And they all left him and fled” (Mark 14:50). Only thick despair stays near him. But what if, beyond hope, God himself answered the four despairing questions of Psalm 88 with a resounding “Yes!”? That will be our focus next week.
Praying with Jesus
I watch a car with loved ones
Back out of the driveway, then
Roll away down the street.
Waving, I stay and watch until
I can no longer see the taillights.
They’re gone.
Will I ever see them again?
Anything could happen.
They’re going so far away.
Your shattered followers
Took you down as gently as they could
From the killing cross, wrapped you well,
Placed you tenderly on the shelf in the cave.
They slid the stone into place,
Their last sight of you was the darkness
Where your body would lay until it was just bones.
Will we ever see him again?
Anything could happen.
He’s going so far away.
They pressed their hands against the stone
Willing their hearts to follow you.
But it was cold, impenetrable.
Where are you? Do you know I love you?
I am standing out here crying.
But God has closed his ears to you and to me.
Now we’re all just stumbling in a fog.
Will I ever see you again?
Anything could happen.
You’re going so far away. 


Posted in: Lent