This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Travelling people expelled from France
Waiting for Divine Redemption
A Song of Ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
This is a small masterpiece. Behind it is the image of the pilgrim making his/her way up to the Temple of God on Mount Zion. The psalm uses the motion of ascent as a metaphor of the relationship between the pilgrim and God. The “depths” is a word used in the Hebrew bible to depict the chaos of the waters which God overcomes by creative order. In the psalm it means primarily the distance between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of the pilgrim. This distance is overcome first of all by the pilgrim’s cry. From the disorderliness of human life only a strong cry can be an expression of faith: anything less determined underestimates the distance. The one who cries knows his/her sinfulness and knows that the holy God could rightly condemn, but trusts that God will also overcome the distance by offering forgiveness. It is just this offer of forgiveness which makes humanity stand in awe (reverence). Human beings are well acquainted with the condemnation meeted out by powerful people to those who have opposed their will. God, the Lord, arouses awe because s/he is different: his mercy is integral to his mystery.
But the pilgrim does not presume on God’s forgiveness. He/she ascends towards the Temple and waits on God’s word, just as the watchmen on the city walls watch for the morning. The repetition of this image expresses the yearning of the pilgrim for God’s decisive word. Perhaps we are to imagine this word being spoken in the course of a great feast such as Passover or Atonement; or perhaps in the quietness of the pilgrim’s prayer.
Then the psalmist turns from his/her personal journey to the journey of Israel. The nation is also is the “depths” because of its sin; it too is invited to climb and to cry and to wait for the dawn of God’s saving justice. In face of all the unfaithfulness of her children, the Lord’s love is steadfast.
The psalm charts the journey of my life. I am encouraged to see it as a journey from depths to height, from chaos and evil to the source of goodness. My whole life is a pilgrim cry from where I am to where I want to be. I cannot assure myself of salvation but can only wait on the margin of light for God’s creative word.
But it also charts the journey of creation, including humanity. God’s creation is not finished. The universe and its living creatures still experience the chaos of evolution and the evil of human choices. Their incompleteness and injustice constitute a great cry to the One who could condemn them to nothingness but chooses to offer mercy and new life. The universe too stands always on the threshold of transformation. In human affairs and in the life of this earth, the determination of our collective pilgrimage and the quality of our waiting on God are critically important; but not as decisive as the steadfast love of God.
The psalm also suggests a spiritual practice based on its fundamental image:
Who am I? I am a pilgrim.
Where have I come from, and where am I going? From God and to God by way of the depths.
What must I do? Wait. And watch for the morning.
(Simone Weil a great and sometimes greatly mistaken saint made the idea of waiting on God central to her thinking. Some of her essays can be found in a collection entitled, “Waiting For God.” Harper Perennial Modern Classics 2001. She’s tough going but wonderful)