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Film Snapshot: Megan's psalm in 'Pale Rider'

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
But I do want.

"He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul."
But they killed my dog.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil--"
But I am afraid.

"--for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."
But we need a miracle.

"Thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."
If you exist.

"And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
But I'd like to get more out of this life first.

If you don't help us we're all going to die.
Just one miracle?


~Megan Wheeler's prayer in Pale Rider after a group of thugs killed her dog when they terrorized the mining camp in which she lives with her mother

Recently I watched again Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and I was struck by how Megan’s prayer at the beginning of the film—using the form of Psalm 23—is not only an excellent example of how the psalms can be used in prayer but in essence creates a new psalm in itself.

For thousands of years, these ancient poems, liturgies and songs have given us form to express to God everything from praise and assurance to anger, pain and loss—sometimes to a God who we also may fear isn’t listening or may not even exist. Megan’s prayer is like this, using lines from a traditional psalm of assurance and praise but mixing it with an honest dialogue or expression of pain, anger and loss.

In “Why the Psalms scare us,” Kathleen Norris says of the psalms, “They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first.” And they “make us uncomfortable,” says Norris, “because they don't allow us to deny either the depth of our pain or the possibility of its transformation into praise.” There doesn’t seem much movement towards praise in Megan’s psalm but that is not out synch with the biblical psalms; consider Psalm 88, one of the few that ends darkly and without assurance of any kind (other than the fact that the psalmist is at least still crying out to God). I appreciate that those ancient poets left us prayers and psalms like this, that acknowledge the moments in life when crying out in pain, anger and desperation is all we can do—and that, those psalms seem to tell us, is okay.

And I appreciate Megan’s prayer because it harkens me back to those ancient poets who remind me that we must be honest and human before God. For it is there—even in our darkest moments—that we meet him and our transformation ensues.

(Image: screencapture from the trailer, Malpaso Company/Warner Bros, via IMDb)


“They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first."

Do you agree with this assertion? (I'm assuming that is why you cited it.)
Carmen Andres said…
Ken, I took the meaning of the assertion to mean that the psalms can help us to be honest in our prayers rather than pious (think Jesus' publican) or covering over our pain or anger (ie, because we want to hang on to it or because “you shouldn’t feel that way”). Instead, they help us express and confess our deepest before God so that (as she says later) our pain, shame or anger can be (be it within that prayer or eventually) transformed into praise. That kind of transformation in the psalms is often through recognizing God is who he says and can do what he says, which leads to trust and genuine praise. With that, I do agree.

Heh, I take it because you brought it up that you have some reservations concerning the assertion…
Carmen Andres said…
After a cup of coffee, heh, a couople of addendums to the above.

First, i should've said "falsely pious" instead of "pious."

And second, on thinking further, another reason I like this quote is that implies that holiness comes from God rather than our own manufacture. It is in trusting that God is who he says and can do what he says that we become, as John puts it, children of God. The confession and expression of our deepest is us meeting God as we are and, in ongoing trust, working with him as he transforms us into our already-but-not-yet new life. would it be appropriate to say that our holiness comes in that in-the-trenches transformation (in which the psalms give us expression)? a bit off the original subject here, but then i've only had one cup of coffee :)