Sunday, 2 July 2017

Psalm 32 and the skill of naming

The first five verses of Ps 32 are as follows, from the New Revised Standard Version:

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

The meaning of ‘Selah’ is somewhat obscure but is generally thought to indicate a pause in sung recitation of the psalm.  However, what is striking about the passage is that it points to the psychological truth that to confess a misdeed, whether in thought or action, is a step to resolve it.  If we keep silent then the internal confusion and stress only increases: ‘my body wasted away’.  Confession is not just good for the soul, it is good for the body too. 

This psalm is not only an illustration of the theological truth of the availability of God’s forgiveness but it also contains a psychological truth.  Through stress and internal conflict handled creatively we can change and grow.  Mary Lou Leavitt, in her 1986 entry in Quaker Faith & Practice (4th edition, 20.71) offers three skills entailed in such creative handling of stress and conflict.  The first skill is naming: being clear and honest about the problem and owning it.  The ability to name what is going on, is crucial to getting out into the open the feelings underlying stress or conflict.  Such a skill is dangerous. It may seem like stirring up trouble where there wasn’t any problem. It needs to be done tactfully, carefully  and caringly, whether with oneself or with others.   It is a preliminary to the next steps of listening and letting go.

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