Psalm 85: Believe a New World into Being

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

July 21, 2020


Return from Babylon by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 85. In Judaism, it is called “a psalm of returned exiles” as it reflects the experience of the Jews returning to their ravished land after the Babylonian exile. Things are a mess, and they have to start all over again to rebuild their Abrahamic nation. 

But they pray as if it is already accomplished.

Despite their suffering and captivity, the people have not lost hope in the promise of Yahweh. They expect its fulfillment and call on God to make it happen.

You have favored, O LORD, your land;
you have brought back the captives of Jacob.
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
you have covered all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your wrath;
you have revoked your burning anger.


This is the power and beauty of a pure and faithful heart. It is free to “believe” God into action. We find this prayerful power expressed over and over in the Psalms. It is answered by God’s almighty and active desire for our good.


The Psalms mediate to us the great promise keeper whose resolve guarantees that the world is not a closed system. Creation, instead, is a world very much in process, sure to come to full shalom. Despair is the fate of a world “without god,” where there are no new gifts to be given. The Psalms refuse that world, knowing that God is not yet finished. Consequently, the Psalms can gather all the great words of the covenant and apply them to the future …

Walter Bruggemann

During these pandemic times, don’t prayer and promises like these speak to our hearts?

I find myself wondering what the world will be like when we finally “return” – come out of our “Covid exile” – what it will be like to see and hug the family, friends and community we love and miss right now, or to fully mourn those we have lost – what it will be like to resume our soul’s unworried dance with Creation and Time.


As we imagine that world, how might we hope for it to be more reflective of God’s dream for us than the world we closed down last March, than the “Babylon” we are experiencing? How will our prayers and actions for merciful justice “believe” God’s promises into reality for all God’s People?

Will you not instead give us life;
and shall not your people rejoice in you?
Show us, O LORD, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation.

I picture some ancient Jewish woman or man standing amidst the rubble of the ruined Temple. How deep did that person have to reach to find the faith and hope to move God?

I picture us standing in a very sick and dysfunctional world. Can we reach that deep ourselves by praying in the childlike, confident spirit of the Psalms:

Lord, show us your mercy and love.


Poetry: Antidotes to Fear of Death – by Rebecca Elson, a gifted Canadian–American astronomer and writer. Elson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 29. With treatment, it went into remission, and in 1996 she married the Italian artist Angelo di Cintio. However, the cancer returned soon afterwards. Elson died of the disease in Cambridge in May 1999, at the age of 39.

A volume of wide-ranging poetry and essays she wrote from her teens until shortly before her death was published posthumously as A Responsibility to Awe in 2001 in the United Kingdom, and in 2002 in the United States. 

Antidotes to the Fear of Death

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Music: Going Home– based on Antonin Dvořák’s Largo from New World Symphony, lyrics by William Arms Fisher, sung here by Alex Boyé with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

2 thoughts on “Psalm 85: Believe a New World into Being

  1. It’s begun to feel like we are in exile and captivity not being able to worship God in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, just as the Israelites had no place of worship after their Holy Temple was destroyed and they were led captive to a foreign land. But we, too, will be restored as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests to serve our God. It’s just a question of how soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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