Psalms 42 & 43 - As I pour out my soul

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To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
1) As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2) My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3) My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

4) These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5) Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6) and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7) Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
8) By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

9) I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
10) As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
11) Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

1) Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!
2) For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?
3) O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
4) Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
5) Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 (NRSV*)
The Great Vigil of Easter
Proper 7, Sunday between June 19 and June 25, Year C
Proper 26, Sunday between October 30 and November 5, Year A (Psalm 43 only)

Psalms 42 & 43 are often treated as a single psalm. Psalm 43 does seem to continue on where Psalm 42 leaves off. It might also be a later addition to provide a more upbeat, conventionally faithful coda of praise to Psalm 42's despairing plight.

Many latch on to the first verses with their beloved imagery of the soul thirsting for God like a deer longing for fresh, flowing water. And this is true, for the psalmist's thirst is measured by their drought, their isolation, their mournful distance from the God they have known. "Deep calls to deep" is a poetic way of evoking the depth of spirit felt after having waves of trouble wash over them (driving them under?). Adversaries taunt with chants of God's abandonment. And they hit home. "I say to God, my rock, 'Why have you forsaken me'?"

The pain is all the more sharp because he or she remember the glad shouts, the festivals they joined in as one who belonged in their community, the experience of God's songs and once rock-solid presence. Now gone, but not> forgotten. "These things I remember as I pour out my soul."

I remember you from the mighty places of old. I remember your songs in the small of the night, and in the song itself you are present. Whether not I feel your presence, steadfast love is still your command. Yet I wonder... is that your promise to me, or hope for me?

This is, to me, one of the psalms which best expresses some important spiritual truths. It is personal. It is self-aware. It does not shy away from or over-dramatize the experience of pain and alienation: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me"? (repeated 3 times). It does not paper it over with piety. Nor does it "curse God and die" (Job 2:9). It is equally unashamed in remembering and calling upon the God of his or her faith.

"Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy? Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me!"

Some years later Jesus would say "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," for justice, for goodness and wholeness (Matthew 5:6). Blessed are those whose souls thirst for the living God. There are many reasons to long for God, who is holy, who is love, who is true - and who is certainly justice. Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause, for you are the one in whom I trust, because you are worthy. Prove it, God! End this tragedy where evil seems to reign! Command your steadfast love to rule over our hearts - and the whole world.

Credits:
Winslow Homer, Deer Drinking, faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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