Today's Lectionary Text
Psalm 73:21-22When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
“Brute Beast”. Say that ten times fast.
It’s a hard thing to say but even harder to acknowledge. Sometimes, when life is really tough, the beast takes over. As the writer of Psalm 73 says, we can become “senseless and ignorant.” That’s putting it nicely.
When we fail, or fall short, or turn our backs on God, the “beast” can emerge. An irrational version of ourselves, perhaps puffed up by bravado, unthinking and uncompassionate. The world suddenly revolves around us, and more often than not, we’re quick to blame our less-than-ideal thoughts and actions on somebody else. Sometimes that someone else is God.
I pretty much hate my brute beast. I cringe with shame to think of the times it’s erupted out of me in a Hulk-style frenzy. All the petty, self-centered, unrefined, faithless parts of me are coming out front and center. I don’t know how to handle myself graciously in those moments, and instead, my mind reels, and I’m irrational and pathetic. Even when I think I’ve managed to hide it from other people, this brute is in my brain, driving me crazy. I know it, and God knows it, and I can’t help but feel helpless against its power.
Every human brain has three parts: The reptile brain (the brain stem), which governs our instincts, and fight or flight tendencies. When I start panicking, that’s the part that’s taking over. The mammalian brain is where our emotions live. When we feel shame or fear, or anger, that’s because we’re stuck in that less developed part of the brain.
When we calm down and recenter ourselves, we’re returning to the uniquely human part of the brain, the cerebral cortex. That’s where critical thinking, higher thinking, lives. That’s the part of the brain that allows, among other things, our faith to blossom and flourish. When we panic or blow it big time, we tend to let those less-developed parts take over. But when we calm down, do some deep breathing, allowing ourselves to be present in the moment, our advanced brains can put the brute beast back in its place.
But why even have a brute beast? Can’t we have a beastectomy and get rid of that shadow, shallow part of ourselves? Well, even though the beast seems out of control sometimes, it does serve a purpose. It can react quickly to danger. It can make sure we are feeling our feelings. The brute beast can be a mirror we hold up to ourselves to remind us that even these less-than-attractive parts of us are still part of us, and not to be ignored.
If you read Psalm 73, you’ll discover a psalmist who met up with their brute beast and lived to tell about it. Here’s what happens when they get a handle on their beast:
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73: 23-26
Everyone has those brutish moments. It can be painful, embarrassing, even shame-inducing. But it doesn’t have to be forever. Remember, God is with us always, even in the “beast” of times.
If you can learn to love your inner beast, you’ll feel less like the Incredible Hulk…
and more like an Incredible Human.
Rev. Mitch Todd
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