Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Psalter and Depression: Singin' the Blues with Psalm 77

I meant to post this yesterday, but was travelling across  Pennsylvania on I-80, and they tell me you shouldn't blog while driving. Yesterday, Psalm 77 headed up Morning Prayer. My Facebook pal, Harold Koenig, whose interesting little FB blurb on Praise of God appeared here pretty recently, has some new thoughts to share on Psalm 77. His first encounter (or maybe head on collision) with Psalm 77 came long ago, before he was Catholic, and while in a state of mind and soul that we children of the 1970s referred to as "messed up". So look what happened.


An acquaintance wrote that she went to Episcopalian "Evening Prayer," in search of solace, but "The Scripture reading[s] were not right for me tonight,..." I'd suggest reversing the phrasing thus, "I was not right for the Scripture readings tonight."

I'd suggest that it's too early to tell. Sometimes the Holy Word sneaks by our consciousness and is planted more deeply.  Some phrase or story may return unbidden.

When I was in college, dissolute, confused, and depressed.  I began to pray Compline from some Episcopalian book. I was, let's say, unmoved. But by grace, I stuck with it. And little by little, it soaked in.  "The devil walketh about ... seeking whom he may devour!" That was fun to think of.

Then we were assigned to write an analysis of a poem of our choice. I was at a loss, until Psalm 77 bloomed in my mind. It speaks to a depressed heart! 
"Is his mercy clean gone for ever? * and is his promise come utterly to an end for evermore?
  Hath God forgotten to be gracious? * and will he shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure?
And I said, It is mine own infirmity; * but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most Highest.
This is the blues!  You sing out your worst feelings until an answer comes! The answer: Remember the mercy, even a terrifying and mysterious mercy!

The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee, and were afraid; * the depths also were troubled.
The clouds poured out water, the air thundered, * and thine arrows went abroad.
The voice of thy thunder was heard round about: * the lightnings shone upon the ground; the earth was moved, and shook withal.
Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters, * and thy footsteps are not known.
You're at the point where you feel like saying. "That's okay God.  This is too scary!" Then the Psalmist speaks gentleness!

Thou leddest thy people like sheep, * by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The cosmic terror, he in whose presence nature trembles and begins to fall apart, is a gentle as a shepherd! He cloaks his proper frightfulness in mildness and patience, even for dissolute and depressed college students!

I may have not been right for Compline, but Compline was right for me!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Of Rabbits and Rocks in Psalm 104

Although I haven't brought this up for quite a while, I'm always intrigued  by all things "Nature" in the Psalms. If you click on the "Nature Notes from the Psalms" label you will see what I mean.  From eagles to ravens, from oxen to deer, from snowflakes to hoarfrost to seas and stars, I  pounce on every little bit reference to flora, fauna, weather, geography and astronomny with delight.

This morning as I did the Office of Readings, for the upmteenth time, verse 18 of Psalm 104 got stuck in my craw. Goats in the lofty mountains? Fine. But rabbits finding refuge in the rocks?

Not any rabbits I know. Here in the USA, rabbits hide in tall grass, low shrubbery, and windfalls in fields and on the edges of forests. I'm sure that occasionally a rock with a jutting ledge or depression beneath it comes in handy, but certainly rocks are not the habitual, er, habitat of rabbits here. British and Eurpoean rabbits are the ones that dig holes in the ground, creating colonies known as warrens. So I don't think rocks play a big part for them, either.

Other bible translations have used the word "conies" in this verse, a multi-purpose English word that can mean rabbit but also other large rodents such as marmots and pikas. (Pikas are the cutest little things. Look them up sometime.) But it seems that the rock-loving creature in this psalm is probably the Syrian Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax. The Hebrew word in the psalm transliterates as Shaphan. Here's a picture of some young ones in their rocky habitat:
source: wikimedia commons
Hyraxes measure between 12 and 28 inches long, and weigh anywhere from 5 to 11 pounds. Although they look like rodents, scientists who classify animals believe they have more in common with elephants and manatees.

I'm afraid there's not much in this post to help people grow in holiness or in their understanding of the Liturgy of the Hours. But if, like me, you delight in the beauty and diversity of God's creation, then maybe I've made your day. And maybe the sight of these little creatures, obviously secure under that sheltering rock, will help us reflect on the Lord as our rock, refuge, fortress, and hiding place in times of distress.