What to Do When Your Soul Is Troubled

March 22nd, 2015

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

I spoke with my mom this week. She was in Rochester, MN for her one year checkup after being pronounced cancer free. That is good news. A year ago I was in Rochester with her and my Dad. It was the final appointment to determine if the chemo and radiation had done its work.

While she and my Dad were at an appointment, I wandered into the chapel at St. Mary’s Hospital. I grew up in Rochester, as you all know, but had no real memory of ever being in that chapel. This would come as no surprise, if it were a normal hospital chapel, but it isn’t. It is huge, like a basilica taken straight from Rome. It is cavernous and beautiful, with stained glass windows and carvings and a mighty altar. On that day I was alone in the chapel, and my prayer became a song as I stood there and sang into that holy space.

Fast forward to last Sunday. It had been a weird week and I was a little grumpy. Have you ever been grumpy? Then you know what I’m talking about. My soul felt troubled, and when it feels troubled, I can’t help thinking of that old spiritual:

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s going to trouble the water.

Do you know what that feels like to have a troubled soul? I do. Jesus certainly did. We hear about it in the Gospel today. We can understand why his soul was troubled. He had turned his face to Jerusalem, and that meant, as Kate described so ably last Sunday, he would die on the cross. That was his trajectory, he knew it, and he wasn’t going to try to change it.

And so, his soul was troubled and he said as much. The word he used was tarasso, Greek for troubled, and we find it used earlier in the Gospel of John in the story of the crippled man who, for 38 years had sat by the Pool of Bethesda, waiting to jump in and be healed. It was believed that when the water rippled and bubbled and spit there was a moment when healing could occur. And yet, every time the water rippled and bubbled and spit, someone else would jump in, in front of the man.

Then Jesus came along and he asked the man what he was doing? The man got a little defensive and said, “There is no one to help me into the pool when the water is troubled!” And Jesus asked, “Do you want to be healed?” I suspect the man thought about it for a minute. Sometimes we get pretty attached to our troubles.

Finally, he said, “I do.” And Jesus said, “take up your mat and walk.”

A troubled soul is an invitation for healing and that is what we are going to talk about today. A troubled soul is an invitation for healing whether it is a little bit of trouble, like a weird week, or a whole lot of trouble, like heading toward the cross. Jesus knew both extremes because he was human, just like you and me. Whether it was a weird week or a final walk, the response to a troubled soul is the same. Jesus shows us in the Gospel, models for us, and teaches us how to manage in those times when our soul is troubled. Here is the pattern:

First, name what is going on. Jesus does. He says, “My soul is troubled.” Then say what you want. Jesus does. He says, “Save me from this situation.” And finally set all that aside and praise God. Jesus does. He says, “God, glorify your name!”

That is the pattern: say how you’re feeling; say what you want; and then set it all aside and praise God. Because as Jesus shows us whatever God has to offer, whatever God’s answer is, whether it arrives in a few minutes, or few days or in the age to come, know there is always something better on the other side. That is the message of the cross. No matter how bad it seems, no matter how troubled the soul there is always something better on the other side. It is called resurrection, and it will arrive.

This is why Jesus says all of this out loud, for our benefit, so we are reminded that resurrection will arrive. Sometimes I forget that, like last Sunday.

When I returned for the 5PM service there was calm in this place. The congregation was quiet. We processed in, in silence, as we do in Lent, and slipped into the rhythm of the liturgy. Then we came to the Kyrie Eleison.

I know it by heart, there are like ten words, so I closed my eyes, and suddenly I felt transported back to St. Mary’s Chapel, Rochester. It was a strange feeling, to be there, fully present in that space, like I was that day a year ago, and simultaneously being here at Epiphany. Maybe you’ve had an experience like that. It could have been my mind playing tricks on me, or maybe I just wandered off to a distant part of my soul, but whatever it was, it was a big moment, maybe even a really real moment and the troubled waters of my soul were stilled.

Monday morning I returned to this experience in prayer. You see, I believe God gives us moments like this to tell us something about our relationship with God, so I took it back to God in prayer. And what I heard was a tug to look up St. Mary’s Chapel on line. So I did. I found a photo. It was just like I remembered. And I wondered, was God inviting me to see something? So I examined the photo and there across the apse, over the altar, written in Latin was: Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum… “My Soul Doth Magnify The Lord.”

And what I was reminded of, which is what I had forgotten, is that when my soul doth magnify the Lord, my troubled waters are settled, which is why I come to church. Even when a settled soul is not my goal, the pattern of liturgy, by its very nature, moves me to a place of peace. Liturgy is designed to work that way. Our choice is only participation and then the liturgy takes it from there, compelling us, if for only a moment, to put God first, which settles the soul a bit, no matter how troubled it may or may not be.

Now this settling for me, in worship, mostly happens when I am singing. There is a reason that singing is universally used in worship, because singing is both a metaphor and a mechanism.

Let me explain. Singing is a metaphor for how the spirit and the soul interact to glorify God, and singing is a mechanism by which the spirit and the soul interact to glorify God. Singing is a metaphor and a mechanism.

Let me say more about how. Singing is a metaphor in this way. First we decide to engage God. It is a decision made freely from our spirit. Then the spirit moves out, expanding like the sound of a song into the space of our soul. There we encounter God because the soul belongs to God and it is where we mingle with God. Singing is a hardwired human activity that acts as metaphor for how we engage God. The spirit decides to turn to God, and this fills our soul in a way that glorifies God. When our spirit and soul work in unison it looks like singing. That is the metaphor: The spirit expands like the sound of a song into the space of our soul.

Singing is also a mechanism through which our spirit and soul glorify God. Over the past few weeks, Kate and I have been preaching about the spiritual exercises, and how they engage the spirit with the soul. One of these spiritual exercises is worship, and worship in many cases includes singing. So singing is also a mechanism through which we glorify God through our spiritual disciplines.

I’d like to take a minute to experiment with how this actually works. To start, I’d like you to think about something that is making you grumpy. And while you do, I’m going to recruit a volunteer from the choir. Who in the choir feels like they can fill this room today with their voice? Give me a note. Now roll it into a crescendo-louder, and louder, and louder! Now make it into a song… like “Wade in the Water”. Let’s all join along.

Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s going to trouble the water.

I hope you feel less grumpy.

Singing is a metaphor for the dance of spirit and soul and community for the glory of God. It is a mechanism by which we choose to glorify God together with the secondary benefit of soothing our troubled souls. That is how worship works. And it starts with the simple instructions of Jesus: name your troubles; state your needs; and then set it all aside and sing for the glory of God.