The Daily Office Psalter readings are currently in the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). I preached a series from that section in the Psalter a few years ago, and it remains one of my favorites. And by favorites, I think I mean that I grew to be surprised at how dear they became especially as I engaged them imaginatively in trying to communicate them poetically myself.
One of today’s psalms is Psalm 127 which reads,
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
There is a lot going on in this psalm, and one can get distracted by the seeming non sequitur of a builder, a watchman and child bearing. Yet, when we consider what blessing is, what ‘new morning mercy’ is like, when we consider the fullness of lovingkindness and amazing grace, there is in a similar way, a non sequitur of sorts. That is, when we receive the great gift of blessing or answered prayer, it seems wildly incongruous with what came before and is nothing short of being blessed with a child and in all its ways: courtship, consummation, conception, expectation, travail, delivery, and full arms.
As we seek the hope of miraculous blessing in the midst of great trial, Psalm 127 is both a psalm with which to start the morning and with which to head to bed. Today, what will bring blessing? Where may I turn to receive it? Or, Tonight what will bring sleep, and how can I rest peacefully waiting and wondering if blessing ever will come?
This sonnet is titled, “Unless the Lord.” I also offer it in honor of two friends who have just welcomed a child into the world. May their arms be full of the Lord’s lovingkindness even as they rest in His arms.
You may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.
“Unless the Lord,” the qualification
That matters, the watchman’s only security,
The only footing, the firm foundation
Upon which to build, the builder’s surety.
But when you lie down, your heart’s empty of rest;
Your mind works all night at a rolling boil;
You arise in the morning stiff and stressed
To feed upon the bread of anxious toil.
Fruitfulness isn’t ledgered productivity
As if blessing could be quantified,
Rather it’s the labor of love’s creativity
As children begotten by husband and bride.
Beloved of God, be at peace tonight;
Sleep safe as his child, his beloved, delight.
© Randall Edwards 2017
This sonnet is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
artwork: detail from an illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey form the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.