Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
June 26, 2020
(I have not written a past reflection on Matthew 8:1-4 because other feasts have occurred on its past dates. But the story is the same as Luke 5 so that reflection is available here.)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 137, one of the most tender and yet violent of the psalms. Set during the Babylonian Captivity, the verses express the longing of the Jewish people for their homeland and their freedom.
The composer, thought to be Jeremiah the prophet, captures the poignant desperation of those who have lost everything. In literature and music, the psalm’s ardent emotions have been applied to the shameful enslavements throughout subsequent history — of Jews, Africans, and other devastated peoples. It resounds in the lives of refugee families incarcerated at our borders. Its mournful simplicity echoes a cosmic suffering.
But the prayer can also be a very personal one. It has brought release for the pain of individuals experiencing unwanted separation from someone or something not only beloved, but core to their identity.
By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps…
How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!
Over thirty years ago, I was blessed to spend four months accompanying my mother in the final stages of her terminal illness. It was a time of unexpected benediction and joy for both of us. But it was also a time of deep sadness to the point that I was unable to listen to my precious morning music with which I have always prayed. To do so caused the sadness to rip through me in tears- tears which would have broken my mother’s heart had she seen them. So I hid them by abstaining from music. I hung up my harp. Even after Mom’s death, it took a while for me to tiptoe back into those melodic waters. After it all, I understood more clearly what it meant when the psalmist said, “How can we sing our song in a foreign land?”
Christine Robinson’s transliteration is so perfect to capture this kind of pain, shot with unbearable light.
We were at the end of our rope— tired, bereaved, despairing. And they wanted us to sing! How could we? How can we sing God’s song in a strange land? But we will never forget. We will hold fiercely to our good memories of love. And we will prevail!
Today, let this magnificent psalm bring you your own global awarenesses and personal memories of how even devastation, when received in faith, can teach and transform us.
Music: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from the opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi
The opera follows the plight of the Jews as they are assaulted, conquered and subsequently exiled from their homeland by theBabylonian king Nabucco ( Nebuchadnezzar II). The historical events are used as background for a romantic and political plot. The best-known number from the opera is the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”, “Va, pensiero, sull’all dorate”/ lFly, thought, on golden wings”, a chorus that is regularly given an encore in opera houses when performed today.