Monday, July 7, 2014

Two Songs

I can’t say for certain the songs I labeled as my favorite 20 years ago are my favorite songs today.  We live in a poll taking culture.  We feel like we need to have such a list as our favorite songs or movies or books immediately available to us at any moment in case we’re asked.  We don’t want to look culturally clumsy, but new songs and movies and books come into our culture constantly.  It’s unrealistic to stay abreast of every new cultural wrinkle, but something new or fresh could be my favorite song or movie or book the moment you ask me.

A few days ago through the Daily Office scripture readings in the Book of Common Prayer I read two psalms, 137 & 144.  The singing of songs appeared as a theme for me in these two psalms.  In the first psalm, there was a familiar set of verses I've related to in my life several times.  One may say these are such days for me now.

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
   If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.  -- Psalm 137: 4-6

How could we sing what we know and have experienced of God previously in a foreign land under foreign circumstances?  In this scripture the psalmist writes that their tormentors in Babylon asked the Hebrews to entertain them by singing the old songs of Zion.  For the captors, these songs referred to are mirthful, entertaining, captured antiquity from a subdued people and their culture.  Of course, the Babylonians poked fun as the victors at the Hebrews as they wept when they remembered Zion.

How could we sing . . . in a foreign land?  We can relate to this question superficially by living in Anniston for a month instead of Sand Mountain where we’re supposed to buy a farm. 

I then read Psalm 144.  “I will sing a new song to you, O God. (vs. 9a)” We’re to sing a new song to God!  In Babylon, the captors told them to sing about the Lord.  Verses 5-8 beforehand in Psalm 144 are part of a prayer asking for the Lord to come down to set David the psalmist free.  A new song would be in praise for what the Lord was about to do to rescue King David. 

Singing a song of the Lord in a foreign land is not fresh.  It isn't a fresh expression of what the Lord has done.  A song in Psalm 137 is sung out of tradition while the Lord’s action has not been immediate and can be interpreted as delayed action.  The new song in Psalm 144 comes out of a potentially fresh, redemptive work of God. 

Two songs.  Why isn’t the psalmist in Psalm 137 singing the same as in Psalm 144?  137 is a lament.  144 is not.  Why isn’t the first psalmist praying for the Lord to bow the heavens and come down to set them free?  This psalmist feels & believes something different of the Lord than David in Psalm 144.  This psalmist insists on remembering Zion.  Depressed and angry, the psalmist looks forward to avenging what they've suffered.  These feelings are undeniable, but such feelings require no faith

David’s declarations, “Blessed be the Lord . . . my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, (144: 1a, 2a)” require faith in the midst of trouble and war.  David’s intercession, “Bow the heavens, O Lord, and come down . . . stretch out your hand from on high; set me free and rescue me from the mighty waters . . . rescue me from the cruel sword, and deliver me from the hand of aliens, (144: 5a, 7, 11a)” requires faith for the Lord’s direct involvement.  As the author of the book of Hebrews said, “And without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11: 6a, NRSV).” 

The lament of Psalm 137 is real.  I've been there.  I know what it is to feel loss and the presumption of God’s abandonment.  The feelings are real and debilitating.  The darkness of such pain is a wide and long shroud, and you really don’t want to sing any songs of the Lord.  If friends or enemies are prodding you, the least you want to do is sing a Lord’s song. 

The emotional pain of loss or defeat cannot remain our definitive heart felt expression.  If we trust in the depression and anger related to our defeats, we will believe whatever the pain communicates to us; however, if we trust in the grace and power found in the Lord who has shown himself to us or to people we know and trust to be our rock, our fortress, our stronghold, then his life will refresh and rescue our lives. 

What would it be if the captors asked to be entertained and the Hebrews didn't hang up their harps, but they sang new songs of the goodness of their God and it was only a matter of time before he delivers them from their captivity?  It would have certainly changed the atmosphere among the prisoners.  The atmosphere would have been charged with faith and hope and, probably, more praise. 

The new song to the Lord would have required faith.  An old song of Zion that came from hearts full of despair and hopelessness doesn't require faith.  Despair and hopelessness seasoned with anger and depression are always easy to find in any human enclave.  Our business as inheritors of God’s best through the sacrifice of his dear son is to be conduits of the kingdom – the kingdom of our God who hears the cries of the doomed and comes and opens their death cells (Ps. 102: 18-22, The Message).   

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