Psalm 30 - Will the dust praise you?

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A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.
1) I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2) O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3) O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

4) Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5) For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

6) As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7) By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

8) To you, O Lord, I cried,
and to the Lord I made supplication:
9) “What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10) Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be my helper!”

11) You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12) so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 31 (NRSV*)
6th Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C
Proper 5, Sunday between June 5 and June 11, Year C
Proper 8, Sunday between June 26 and July 2, Year B
Proper 9, Sunday between July 3 and July 9, Year C

Many psalms seek the Lord's attention to the psalmist's situation. For a petition to be considered, it must be heard. To get a parent's attention, you tug on their leg, or call out "Mom! Dad!"

Perhaps you've seen the "still face" experiments which show how closely attuned babies are to the emotional relationship with their parent/caregiver. Parent and child are "working to coordinate their emotions and their intentions, what they want to do in the world," says Dr. Edward Tronick. In the experiment, the parent shifts to a blank expression, giving no feedback to the child. "The baby uses all of her abilities to try and get the mother back." The child smiles, she points, she screetches, she begins to cry and shows distress in a number of ways, in just two minutes. It rapidly becomes uncomfortable, even unbearable, to the child, the mother, and to the viewer.

How much more so when it is a mature adult, and a community, to whom God seems to have turned his back?

"By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain (a mighty tower?); [yet when] you hid your face; I was dismayed" (v7).

"Dismayed" ain't the half of it. Lost, abandoned, bereft, crushed. Prosperity turned to desolation, might to brokenness.

What can bring back the face of the Beloved, more importantly, the Needed?

The Biblical images of towers and the Pit found resonance with those who worked in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Those steel signposts of commerce and the global capital empire took so much labor to build, and so little heartless effort to destroy. The deaths seemed not only cruel, but useless. But the same is true of other evil.

It is a hard thing for the once upright and proud to beg for their very lives, supplicating the one whom they bless for favor and fear for fate. Save my life, for if I die, will the dust from my bones be able to praise you, Lord?

These verses are the hard core of the psalm, spoken from the pit of of deepest night. The Pit may be a prison cell, the chains of addiction, crushing poverty, cropping pain... Any Pit can be as deep as Sheol if there is no way out.

But the whole psalm is a testimony. It bears witness to resurrection, of being redeemed from the Pit of death. It is accomplished; it has been done. The Lord heard and was gracious. The weeping lingered... the night was long... But God... you thought I was worth saving.

If we remember how humanity started and ends ("ashes to ashes, dust to dust") dust can praise God - when it has been given the breath of life.

     You have turned my mourning into dancing;
     you have taken off my sackcloth
     and clothed me with joy,
     so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
     O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Credits:
Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres, USN. New York City fireman calls for 10 more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Center, 15 September 2001. Public domain. This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 010914-N-3995K-015.
UMass Boston. Still Face Experiment: Dr. Edward Tronick. Published Nov 30, 2009.
* 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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