Many of us are realising we have been more deeply affected by the events of 2020 and 2021 than perhaps we initially expected. In difficult times, it can be helpful to have a model or structure that allows us to acknowledge and express our grief, anger, and confusion; to move us forward with the task and challenge of life; and to discern what are healthy responses to loss and grief from a biblical perspective.
American theologian Walter Brueggman offers such a model. Based on the structure in the book of Psalms, he posits that all human life (and the life of faith) is organised around three themes, or places: orientation, disorientation, and a new orientation. In this week’s blog, we unpack what each theme means, and the importance of the movement between them.
This is the place when everything in our relationship with God is going well, and life makes sense. For many of us, this is a comfortable time when we feel like we understand what is happening around us, and there is a sense of peace, calm and purpose. Life is good. And God is good.
An event like COVID-19, or any major crisis, then begins to move us from orientation to a stage of disorientation. Disorientation is much more than circumstantial discomfort – it is an inner, personal awareness and recognition that a profound shift is taking place. Something is changing, and we don’t know what is ending and what is beginning. Disorientation is the experience of living in the in-between. It is characterised by vulnerability, frustration, doubt, fear, feeling lost, and wanting answers, miracles and signs. Life is not as expected, it is messy and difficult. And where is God? (in the Psalms, we read about David complaining, pleading and crying out to God).
3. A NEW ORIENTATION
The moment always comes when we move from a context of disorientation to a new orientation. The movement begins to happen when we are surprised by a new gift from God, a new coherence, made present precisely when we thought that everything was lost. In other words: we find a new normal of God AND God in ourselves. We discover a new way of being and finding Emmanuel – God with us.
With the COVID pandemic persisting in 2021, and the weighty shifts associated with it, it is fair to say we are all in a context of disorientation. Here are two truths about disorientation to help us navigate it as well as possible:
- Believe that this place is as much of God as any orientation or harmony
In the difficult, messy middle, when we are on the outside, trying to look in and see only walls, we ask: what can all of this mess have to do with a holy or loving God?
We may not have the answers, but we can trust that despite the length or difficult of this disorientation (or any future ones), God’s grace will eventually break through. It always does. Let the middle Psalms give you ancient songs to pray in the waiting.
- Share your distress and doubts
We have an epic invitation to sit in disorientation while God rewrites human history. We have permission to scream at God; share our doubts and fears directly with God; express our anger at political leaders with God. We can demand justice and even retribution in the face of injustices. God knows what is in our hearts, and our invitation is to allow Him into our raw inner states and vulnerabilities.
One last point: expect the movement from disorientation to a new orientation to be inexplicable, to be credited only to God’s intervention. There will be no other accounting or rationale for it, other than amazing grace.