Session One: Introduction

Scripture: Psalm 121

Open with Prayer: Express thanksgiving for the service and safe return of the student veterans, and ask for God’s blessings on the study we are about to do together.

Introduce yourself.
Go around the room and have participants introduce themselves by sharing first name, branch of service, deployments, and assignments during deployments.

Lesson:

The question before us is this: are there theological resources from the ancient Babylonian Exile that will help you as you come to terms with your experiences in Iraq?

Over the next few weeks, we will study some of the stories of ancient Judah, looking for ways in which those stories may intersect with your stories. This will not be an exhaustive study, but hopefully it will open the scriptures to you in a new way as you build a life that honors and respects all that has happened during your own Babylonian Exile.

Some scholars argue that human life has a narrative quality – that a person understands his or her experiences in terms of a story. Narrative allows you a way to find coherence in the jumble of events that comprises your life, no matter how trivial or how profound those events might be. I hope that as we progress through this Bible study you will find ways to better understand the stories of your war experiences and bring that part of your life into the story of the rest of your life, a story whose end is not yet in sight.

We are going to study some of the stories of ancient Israel and the way that they told stories about their life together in hopes that their stories will help you to find meaning in your own story of war. The Bible stories and our work together will focus on some of the issues you may be encountering or may encounter during this period of transition: suffering, grief, meaning, hope, restoration, and homecoming.

We’ve already started sharing parts of our stories when we introduced ourselves to each other. Let’s take a step back and think about what your lives were like before you went to war.

Psalm 121: (NRSV)
1I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?
2My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
3God will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4The one who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

I read that passage from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Do any of you have a translation of the Bible with substantially different language? If so, could you read that for us? Do the differences in language matter to our understanding of that passage?

Discussion Questions:

  1. I grew up in West Virginia and this Psalm is extremely familiar to me. In fact, some people refer to this as “the West Virginia Psalm.” Why do you think that might be? Is this Psalm familiar to you? Why? In what circumstances have you heard it read?
    [This Psalm expresses two ideas that are important to the culture of central Appalachia and West Virginia: the beauty of the hills, and the strong sense of place and attachment to the land that many natives of this area feel.]
  2. How does this Psalm make you feel? Is it a good description of your relationship with God before you were deployed?
  3. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote that certain Psalms “articulate and maintain a ‘sacred canopy’ under which the community of faith can live out its life with freedom from anxiety. . . . There is a ‘givenness’ to be relied on, guaranteed by none other than God.” Do you think Psalm 121 fits that description?
  4. Do you still believe that God provides a sacred canopy under which we live our lives with freedom from anxiety? Does this Psalm still have meaning for you?
  5. It has become clear to me that many veterans understand their experience in war by telling stories about it. What kind of a story are you living in now?

Close with prayer that brings together the concerns and issues expressed by participants.

Next Session: Suffering

 

Other Sessions

Session 1: Introduction
Session 2: Suffering
Session 3: Grief
Session 4: Hope
Session 5: Restoration
Session 6: Homecoming