My Lenten Scripture reading was hopping and skipping right along. I started with 1 Kings, and within the first two weeks I made it through 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Job. The stories are alive and vibrant; I even read all of the genealogies in Chronicles and enjoyed making the connections with other stories I had read. I soaked it all right up.
And then I got to Psalms. And every day is a struggle to force myself to read just one or two of what some claim is the most beautiful poetry ever written.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that the biggest reason I have such a hard time with so much poetry, and why I have trouble with most of the Psalms, is because of the sentimentality. All of the mushy-gushy, lovey-dovey, heart-on-your-sleeves emotion makes me uncomfortable. I want a story, with characters who grow and learn. I want progress. I want resolution to problems.
It’s hard for me to simply be. It’s hard for me to simply accept where I am, or where another person is.
I’m not alone in my struggle. Jane Eyre dealt with the same thing. (And, yes, I often compare my spiritual growth to hers. #obsessed)
When Mr. Brocklehurst comes to interrogate Jane Eyre about her faith, he asks her:
“Do you read your bible?”
“With pleasure? Are you fond of it?”
“I like Revelations,” she answers, “and the book of Daniel, and Genesis and Samuel, and a little bit of Exodus, and some parts of Kings and Chronicles, and Job and Jonah.”
“And the Psalms? I hope you like them.”
“No? oh, shocking!” …
“Psalms are not interesting,” [Jane remarks].
“That proves you have a wicked heart; and you must pray to God to change it: to give you a new and a clean one: to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
One of the many reasons I love Jane so much is because she, too, is not a fan of the Psalms. But, in a way, Mr. Brocklehurst is right. At this point in the book, Jane is spiritually immature. She believes it is better to be poor than loved; she does not know the value of patiently enduring suffering; she refuses to love those who treat her unkindly.
But Helen Burns starts to change all of that. Helen is the first person to show Jane what selflessness looks like. Helen teaches Jane about humility and gentleness. She shows Jane abundant understanding. And although Jane’s personality never ceases to be passionate, she learns what it means to love someone with understanding: a quality known back then as sympathy.
Sympathy was the rooted-in-love ability to simply be with another person, to accept them as they are and see the beauty.
Sympathy is the reason Jane could never marry St. John—though he was a good “Christian,” he lacked all understanding and compassion for others. Sympathy is the reason that Jane returned to Mr. Rochester—she was so consumed by love and understanding for him that when some mystical combination of presentiment, sympathy, and signs (See Ch. 21) compelled her to return, she listened.
Sympathy is the key to understanding the Psalms. Sympathy is the heart of worship. And it’s something I need to work on.