A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning Cush, a Benjaminite. “O Lord my God, in you I take refuge. If I have plundered my foe without cause, then let the enemy pursue and overtake me.” – Psalm 7 excerpts (NRSV)
Shiggaion: a drunken reel, a wildly rhythmic poem.
David prayed a shiggaion in Psalm 7, careening from emotional highs to self-deprecating lows. “Trample my life to the ground, O God. But also have pity on me. But don’t pity my enemy!” Habakkuk prayed a shiggaion in Habakkuk 3 with a swirling frenzy: “I am in awe of you, O God—your brightness, your might, your wrath, your work, your salvation!”
They were not the first, and they will not be the last, two persons who take a swig from the flask as an avenue to open their hearts to holy insights.
I won’t advocate for the use of alcohol, drugs, or other vices to loosen our tongues before God or to ease our spirits of their burdens, as King David and the prophet Habakkuk did. Too often, such vices have the opposite impact, disguising our fears or burying our shames or feeding our diseases. But I would observe that many of us find ourselves constrained and self-conscious when it comes to prayer—especially confessional prayer, that most awful exercise of nakedness before God. That gut-wrenching release of control. That awkward waterfall of unkempt words. That blushing disclosure of our self-importance. To the extent that we feel restricted in prayer, we hold ourselves back from the freedom of its graces.
Some of us might benefit from a shiggaion (with or without the flask) to shake loose from the various spiritual constraints we pick up, inherit, cling to, self-impose, other-impose, or otherwise accept in our prayer lives. We could use a good, freeing dance of the soul. A wild and random jig of words. A dynamic outpouring of emotion. A bare-all tell-all before God.
Let me not hold back with you, O God. This is me: jumbled mess, emotional baggage, scatter-brained sinner, wrapped in dusty vanity. Let me be unrestrained before you, trusting you to reveal in love the healings that are possible.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.