Monday, September 1, 2014

A Psalm for the Yazidi

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

When my enemies turned back, they stumbled and perished before you.
For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.
You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever…

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion. Declare his deeds among the peoples.

For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Be gracious to me, O Lord. See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death, so that I may recount all your praises, and, in the gates of daughter Zion, rejoice in your deliverance…

The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.
Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you.
Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human.

Psalm 9: 1-5, 7-14, 17-20

Reflection – This is the first time in the Monday Psalter that I cannot print the entire psalm text on the blog—Psalm 9 is just a little too long for that. This is a psalm that probably does not rank among many people’s personal favorites. At first glance it is simply a reiteration of a theme that at times gets a little monotonous in the psalms: we have enemies; God, destroy our enemies; God did destroy our enemies. Hurray! Repeat as needed.

When you pray the entire psalter, as those of who pray the full office do over a four-week period, the large number of psalms more or less taken up with these matters is a bit disconcerting. The ancient world lived in a state of perpetual warfare and constant threat of destruction. If it wasn’t the Assyrians, it was the Babylonians, and then the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans. And before all that time of imperial conquest and dominance, it was a whole era of smaller tribes continually jostling for territory and slaying each other in the process.

And the people of Israel were pretty small potatoes in all this, much more often the conquered and the slain then the victorious conquerors. So it makes sense that in their psalmody questions of the enemy and what to do with them, the crying out to God for redress and the jubilant exultation when deliverance comes all are prevalent themes.

For us, though? These psalms push us somewhere that may seem a bit alien to us. I, personally, have never had a gun pointed at me, let alone held to my head. I have never been beaten up, never been faced with real hunger, never been in fear of my life. I realize I am profoundly, deeply lucky in these matters, and that not everyone in my North American social context, let alone elsewhere, can say those things.

But we are, as a society, largely blessed with security and peace, at least compared to much of the rest of the world, much of the rest of human history. But this psalm, and such psalms, push us regardless of our own personal situation into a deep solidarity with humanity and its suffering, the anguish of the poor, the terror of the victimized and brutalized. We pray this psalm for and with the Yazidi people, for and with the kidnapped children of Nigeria, for and with all the terrorized and the refugees, the tortured and the slain.

And this particular psalm is a cry to the just God who works justice, who is the savior of His people. This too pushes us deep into the mystery of faith. God’s salvation and God’s deliverance is a mighty mysterious thing at times. Without a faith in heaven and eternal life, it is hard to see how we can pray this psalm at all—so many live and die in this world without seeing any obvious deliverance of God.

So this psalm which may not be our most beloved favorite takes us both deeply into the heart of suffering humanity, and bears us into the heart of the mystery of faith. All flesh is crying out to God for justice and salvation; all flesh yearns to see this deliverance; all flesh cries for God to rise up and raise us up with Him in the glorious victory of good over evil, love over hate, God over all. Amen.