I wrote a series of reflections on the Sorrowful Mysteries for the Verbum blog. Give them a read and let me know what you think!
The congregation clambers to its feet
At the first slow stirrings of song.
Numbered notes spill from stringed voices
Stirring simultaneous nostalgia and anticipation.
Drums and hearts beat, bonded,
As the worshipers wake to their surroundings.
The leader lifts his arms, sensing the spirit
And the audience accedes, hands raised to a familiar God.
Evoking empathy and ecstasy,
A flame is fanned in every follower
And the crowd cries in one accord:
“Hold the Heathen Hammer High!“
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
The Psalmist begins this song in a state of terror. The entire song is centered around terror; the fear of death, of suffering, and the total lack of power.
The heart cries out to the only one who can save it,
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
What is this illness that he suffers? He is dying. Or, he thinks it. His body is giving way to the grasp of death—heal me! But it is not only his body that suffers:
My soul is also struck with terror,
while you, O Lord—how long?
The reader is struck with the incomplete thought, followed only by a desperate plea for a quick recovery. While you… how long?
This is the cry of the soul in terror, in anguish. It is aware just enough to know how bad things are, and disturbed enough not even to finish a thought—only a question remains. How long must I wait?
And then, the soul attempts a plea—an appeal to reason:
Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
Why should God deliver you? Because that is who God is. So do this then—heal me—for your namesake, to reveal your mercy. And also:
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
What good would it be if I were to die here like this? Death is a finality, the end of life, and, subsequently, the end of my praising you.
But we must read this spiritually. For we know that through Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory.” Death is not a finality, we will be raised. But the second death could only have been conquered by Christ.
I am weary with moaning
every night I flood by bed with tears
This illness has lasted for a season. God, hear my prayer. Please!
My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.
Has this illness not been caused by anxiety itself? Over those who seek to end his life? Over the enemy who waits at his door, seeking to kill and destroy? Where, then, is rest? And here is the crux of the matter:
Depart from me, all you workers of evil
The Psalmist’s command is not to his illness, but rather those who do evil around him. It is the unjust, the unrighteous—those who seek their will above the Lord’s—who have caused his state. What is his illness? Terror and its effects.
And why must those who call it go?
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication
the Lord accepts my prayer.
The Psalmist here shows why he is not an evildoer—his faith. In the midst of his terror he trusts in the goodness and mercy of the Lord. Even in the midst of misery and anguish, he trusts in the Lord and his goodness.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.
The roles here shall be reversed—and not through justice, but rather mercy!
I fear for my life,
heal me, O Lord.
I trust in you,
the source of my illness will be vanquished.
This song, in 5 stanzas, juxtaposes the plight of the righteous with the plea for justice. The Psalmist begins:
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing…
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
What is his case? That because the Lord is just, because he hates the boastful, the evildoers, the liars, He will not tolerate them. He will not hear them.
But the Lord hears the psalmist—and why? Because of the singers righteousness? No, but,
Through the abundance of your steadfast love, I will enter your house.
It is the Lord who leads the Psalmist into his court.
But not so the wicked—their own deceit keeps them from holding court with God.
Because of their many transgressions cast them out…
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.
Who is it who sings with joy? Who is it whom the Lord hears?
Those who do not depend on their own counsels.
Those who take refuge in Him, even if they take refuge in Him as one whom they fear, find peace.
So that those who love your name may exult in you.
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound
Pascal. Pensées 570
Types. — They [the Jewish people] had to deal with a carnal people and to render them the depositary of the spiritual covenant…God chose this carnal people, to whom He entrusted the prophecies which foretell the Messiah as a deliverer, and as a dispenser of those carnal goods which this people loved. And thus they have had an extraordinary passion for their prophets, and, in sight of the whole world, have had charge of these books which foretell their Messiah…
But David here, understanding the true nature of God, claims that the gladness that God deposits in his heart is more than the “grain and wine”—the carnal pleasures—that the Jewish people take pride in. The Psalmist here has a spiritual happiness, one that persists.
And this is what the Psalmist means when he says, “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?” His honor is the Lord, while the people seek after vain pleasures and lies.
But who are these who seek after vain pleasures and lies?
The ones that the Lord has not “set apart for himself”.
But this disturbs the spirit. “Has the Lord not set me apart?” But if you are disturbed, the Psalmist says,
“Do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”
Those who show disturbance are to show trust—trust in the silent contemplation of the Lord. Hope. Trust through the “right sacrifices” of those who “work out their fear in fear and trembling.”
Are we chosen by God? Do not despair. Instead,
“lie down and sleep in peace”
for we serve a God who
“makes us lie down in safety.” Hope.
A peace that “transcends all understanding.”
“His second night in Talkingham, Hazel Motes walked along down town close to the store fronts but not looking in them. The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all of time to complete. No one was paying attention to the sky.”
From Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Times have changed,
And no one stays
I thought by now I’d find some peace of mind but
I’m getting more restless every day
We’re fascinated that our time escapes us
we wonder why things don’t fall into place
As we grow up
We keep on looking down to find
Something we’d have
if paying attention to the sky
We have changed
We both ate
from a poison tree
With opened eyes we closed our hands together
in hopes we could undo what we undid
Coveting the things that have been veiled
We buy and sell the very skin we hid
Love can be an afterthought
Wakes you up to find you’re not
Where you really want to be
Missed an opportunity
I was asleep in
The heavens I created
Only to find that
Our hearts were separated
I won’t stop fighting till I die
I’m trying to be right by you and everyone you set apart
There’s no point hiding when I lie
You find me with a light reflecting off the souls I murdered in my heart
Love can be an afterthought
Shakes you up to find you caught
Up in arms and ready for
Fighting in a losing war
I lie down and I fall asleep,
and I will wake up, for the Lord sustains me.
Whereas the Second Psalm focused on the fear of God as a requisite to knowledge and, ultimately, any form of true power (one that is not founded in the Ego, but rather flows through and from God himself), the Third Psalm shows that the fear of the Lord leads to freedom from the fear of man.
The psalmist writes the words above in the midst of an immanent threat to his life—he is being pursued by attackers who will kill him when they find him. And yet, so confident is he in the Lord that he is able to do perform the most vulnerable act—sleep—even though a letting down of all defenses means a potential loss of life. The writer here is not just free from fear, but from all anxiety.
Interestingly, the writer’s security is not merely a defensive one, but it manifests itself in an active faith of the offensive:
Arise, Lord! Save me, my God!
For you strike the cheekbone of all my foes;
you break the teeth of the wicked
We don’t here see death and utter destruction, but we do see a plea for debilitation. The saving of the righteous happens transpires through the punishment of the wicked.
What is striking about this psalm is the writer finds himself in a place of true desperation
How many are my foes!
How many rise against me!
And the reiterate, no one seems to believe he can (or will) be saved:
How many say of me,
There is no salvation for him in God
“It is not God who will (or can) save, but he may save himself, perhaps” they say. But the psalmist rejects this: On the contrary, it is precisely the Lord who allows him to live, who gives him the ability to continue. It is through this knowledge that he does not fear either man (or himself!), but finds rest in the Lord, who watches over all things.
And now, kings, give heed;
take warning, judges on earth
Serve the Lord with fear;
exult with trembling,
The second Psalm is one centered around fear, specifically the fear of the Lord—the same kind of fear that is considered “the beginning of knowledge” in the first Proverb. A king or ruler, of all people, should be one who fears the Lord, who “trembles before him,” because failing to do so only increases pride, ultimately leading to destruction. Interestingly, the ruler’s pride here isn’t characterized as a “worldly foolishness,” like a mere stubbornness, but rather one that invokes the wrath of the Lord.
lest he become angry and you perish along the way
when his anger suddenly blazes up
Pride here isn’t characterized as an inwardly destructive force, but rather one that destroys from outside the self—pride is a provocation, a wind on the embers of the wrath of God.
But contrary to all of this destruction, the second psalm ends on on a positive admonition:
Blessed are all who take refuge in him! [The Lord]
This imagery of “refuge,” of the Lord as a “strong tower” is one that will crop up again and again in the Psalms. There is a prevailing discourse of power that persists through these songs, one that compares the King (or ego) with the King of Kings.
He is like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season
Such is the man who “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the company with scoffers.” A man who delights in the law of the Lord, “and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Patience, is a motif here—or, more aptly, diligence or perseverance. We read that the fruit that is yielded is not immediate, but rather it is produced “in season.” When is this season for harvest? When Jesus spoke of a harvest, it was in reference to the “end of the age.” But I think we may be allowed to read this not in an exclusively eschatological light, but rather understanding that the fruit yielded from the labor of righteousness comes intermittently, in various “seasons”.
We are not to despair when the the fruit is lacking, but we are to wait, and to continue working.
The second half of the psalm echoes this motif focusing on the wicked,
“But not so are the wicked! They are like chaff driven by the wind…”
The image here of chaff, of something light being caught up into the daily shifting winds, is an image of idleness, of “flightiness,” characterized by submitting to the whims of fancy. It is a damnable evil, but one less severe than others (such as deceit or malice), one found in the likes of Dante’s 5th canto where the lustful are caught up in the powerful winds in the second circle of hell.
We find then that the first Psalm is fitting as ordered — it readies the one willing to pursue righteousness, telling him to be prepared to wait and continue in labor (persevere) until the time of harvest.