The Healin’ Power of Hurtin’ Words – Part 2

Psalm 137

Well, it’s Stampede time again, and I hope all of you’ve have had a good time today and that you’ve had your fill of pancakes and sausages, and some good conversations. I’m very grateful to Brad and Lance who have returned to this tent again to offer their talents and songs, not just for during the breakfast, but also for worship… all with a country-themed music.

But Country songs do have a reputation of being rather depressing don’t they?

When we think of country music, what are some of the themes? (have people call them out)

In an age of self-driving vehicles, it is inevitable that we are going to get a country song where someone sings about how their truck up and leaves them.

But then again, aren’t depressing lyrics the central feature of country songs?

One does not have to think hard to come up with some general themes, and that country songs often have depressing lyrics.

Even some of the ones that on the surface that are happy, have a sad pretext. Famously, and we sang this both last year, and we are going to sing it again shortly… “You are My Sunshine”

The chorus seems to be pretty upbeat, at least reasonably so:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
you make me happy, when skies are grey.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,
please don’t take my sunshine away.

But then the lyrics for the first verse go like this:

The other night dear, while I lay sleeping,
I dreamed I held you in my arms,
but when I awoke dear, I was mistaken,
and I hung my head and cried.

…and it gets more depressing from there… the chorus is meant to be sung with tears streaming down the singer’s face.

Country music as we know it today emerged from East Tennessee in the 1920s, but was heavily influenced by the experience of the Great Depression in the 1930s. In fact, it’s harder to come up with happier lyrics. I had to do some digging, Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” is the exception to the rule! There are others, of course, but for the most part, country songs have a well-earned reputation for being sad and depressing.

But that’s not a bad thing! Cuz there’s healin’ in them hurtin’ words! And the tradition of hurtin’ words, especially in songs, goes waaaaay back. Almost immediately Psalm 22 and Psalm 137 come to mind as ancient songs that are hurtin’ words, but there are others. There is an entire book in the Bible filled with depressing lyrics, its formal title is Lamentations, that waxes depressing on the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonian Empire, but one could easily call it “The Book of Hurtin’ Words.”

So while country music really is only about 100 years old, the tradition of songs of lament goes back thousands of years. It’s Biblical!

It tells me that the tradition of singing our lament, of putting hurtin’ words to music, is far more than style, but touches notes deep within our spirituality.  It’s worth paying attention to.

This past week has been a tough one for us at St. Matthew’s. On Monday, I visited with both, Isabel Kletsky and Jim McKinnon. Later that day, both of them died, and much of my week has been in contact with both of their families. It has been a sorrow-filled week, so I’ve been very much in the mindset of lament and grief for two members of this congregation whom I will personally miss very much.

Those words of lament that we find in the Bible, whether they’re in Lamentations, Job, or the Psalms; almost universally, they are songs. Rather than praising God, they’re giving voice to experiences of sadness, of grief, of loss. Psalm 137 is a great lament of the exiles, after literally being taken prisoner, and carried into exile, forced into a prison camps by the very rivers, the waters, that flowed by Babylon. To help them cope, they would sing songs of lament: hurtin’ words to give voice to their feelings, and to give them a channel to put out there all of the different mix of emotions that come with trauma and loss. By giving them voice, it gave them strength, and it helped them to heal.

There’s healin’ in them hurtin’ words.

So maybe thinking about that the next time we are tempted to turn something off because it is depressing. There’s a deeply spiritual side to songs of lament, and it’s worthwhile to listen, to sing songs like “Man of Constant Sorrow” or “You are my Sunshine.” Why? because by allowing ourselves the full range of our emotions, there is also an opportunity to let ourselves be healed.

May we all get a chance to learn the healin’ power of hurtin’ words.

Amen.