I am continuing a project of paraphrasing the Psalms. Psalm 11 speaks of the experience of one in trouble. Given the option of fleeing to the mountains or fleeing to the Lord, he asks as Peter asks of Jesus, “Where else shall we go?” This is the meaning of “If our refuge has no footing, the righteous have nothing more.”
You may read the ESV translation of Psalm 11 HERE.
I run for refuge as fast as I can to the Lord.
How can say when winded from running and fear,
Fly like a bird straight to the mountains?
When all around, the wicked have bent their bows,
Look! They’ve set their arrows, and are ready to let fly.
From the cover of darkness
They are ready kill
Any who stand up for the right.
If our refuge has no footing,
The righteous have nothing more.
Yes, the Lord is on his throne!
Glory fills his holy temple
It spills from where he sits above the blue and stars.
From where he sees.
His eyes fix and focus on the children of men.
He sees it all —
Every last thing.
He sees the righteous and examines them.
But he blows a sigh when he sees the violence of the wicked.
Let him shower fire on the wicked—
Let them have their fill of burning embers
Repay them with the scorching stink of sulfur.
For the Lord is right,
And he loves to see the right done.
He will gather up those who do,
And look them right in the eye.
At the beginning or the church season of Ordinary Time, I began a project in the church where I pastor titled Ordinary Prayer. During this pandemic’s staged shut down of activities, we have been meeting over Zoom and praying through the Psalms. Whether they are read in King James English or in a modern translation, the psalms are meant for king and commoner. They’ve been sung and prayed by Levites leading worship in Jerusalem’s Temple and by fishermen mending their nets. They were written by shepherds watching their flocks and by people at their prayers. The psalms are emotionally honest and metaphorically rich.
This past week, I turned my mind to paraphrasing one of the psalms we will be praying. The purpose and benefit of paraphrasing as an exercise is that it allows the writer to further step into what they are reading. The benefit for the reader is that the meaning may be further teased out. The psalms were meant to be prayed, and this is an attempt to make them more accessible.
The psalmist in Psalm 10 brings their faith to bear upon the realities of the injustice of the world in which the psalmist lives. In that world — in this world — there are those wicked people who live as if this world is all that there is and what can be gotten from it is all that is worth getting. Their merciless greed makes them to be, as the the psalmist writes, “of the earth.”
You may listen to me read the psalm paraphrase via the player below.
Why Lord, Why?
Why do you stand off?
Why, when trouble finds me, I cannot find you?
These earthly men have no shame —
These wicked who chase the poor down
And run them into the traps that they’ve set for them.
And when the earthly man has done so,
He brags how he’s gotten everything he’s ever wanted.
Boasting, he laughs to himself, “I got it all on my own!”
He sneers with pride and gives no thanks to God
Of whom he says, “There is no such thing.”
The earthly man gets what he wants here and now.
You, Lord, are far beyond his comprehension.
As for his enemies, he struts around in front of them like a rooster
Saying, “No one makes me step aside. No one can touch me.”
The aerosol droplets of his curse words, lies, and demands
Spit from his mouth the infection of his sin-virus
And works all kinds of mischief.
He is just waiting to cause trouble.
It’s like he just spends his spare time making plans to hurt innocent people.
Like a lion, he looks to pounce on the helpless as he watches from the shadows.
Like a trapper, he waits to pull the snare.
He watches that he might entangle the poor in his net.
Those of us who before were bent by trouble,
The earthly man now breaks and beats down.
He says, “See? God doesn’t care…
He doesn’t see you and doesn’t care what I do!”
Lord! Now! Now!
Come! Do something! Don’t forget us!
How can the wicked go on thinking they can do whatever they please?
Oh, but Oh Lord, you do see.
You mark their mischief and trouble-making
That you may take matters into your own hands.
Lord, we’re reaching out to take your hand,
For you are the one who takes in hand those who have no one.
Slap back the earthly man’s arm,
Shorten his reach,
Frustrate his schemes,
Settle his account,
Make him pay his bill’s full amount.
You Lord, are the boss of everyone: kings, presidents, and CEO’s–
They are all beholding to you.
Nations, agencies, kingdoms, and corporations are nothing.
Lord, Lord, you do hear.
You do hear the cries of those in need.
You will give them courage.
You will find them and listen to every last word they have have to say
So that justice is worked for those who are alone and beat down–
For those who have no one but you,
So that the earthly man won’t make anyone afraid ever again.
Tonight at 7:00pm is an online reception for Grace Kernersville’s Lent and Easter art installation titled, The Stations of the Cross. Join Kevin McClain of Gate City Gate House, myself, and artist, Keaton Sapp, whose art makes up the exhibit for an online reception to discuss the exhibit, art, and the place of beauty in the life of the church. The event will conclude with a virtual walking of the stations.
Psalm 129 is located in a collection of psalms called the Songs of Ascent. These psalms are the songs sung by pilgrims on their way to celebrate the great Jewish festivals and to worship at the Temple of Jerusalem. These psalms speak of encouragement and comfort, they exhort and challenge, and some speak with a voice of defiance against the adversity one faces on just such a journey. Psalm 129 is one of those psalms.
There are many things which obstruct us in the way. Sadly, the obstructions oftentimes come from those whom we’d hope would go with us or at least encourage us. Rather than being indifferent or ignoring us, these wicked ones seek to prevent our going by compelling us to stay — stuck behind in shackles and scourgings.
You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
Since my youth, they have afflicted me–
Foremen who furrowed my flesh of life,
Who scourged, whipped, beat and knifed–
The plowers who plowed in red.
Let all those trodden upon and left for dead
Say it with me. Say it with me!
“Though greatly afflicted, yet they have not,
They have not prevailed over me!”
Let the deeds they sow, though they sprout and grow,
Wilt, wither, and waste in the sun’s heat;
Let their garnered glory fade in defeat,
Leave them nothing in their hand.
Bind them to emptiness as with a band.
May these wicked be cursed, never know
The peace of fullness, for they have not
Prevailed, not prevailed, let them know.
The Lord is good. He is just. He alone, right.
He perseveres his people, breaks their chains;
With the iron scepter of his rule and reign,
He dashes as clay their oppression.
But he delivers by his own dispossession,
Takes the mortal cords, enters the night,
Gives his back to plowers, who plow up his life
To bury in death, snuff out the Light of life.
This was the plan, the eternal decree,
That the Sower furrow into the ground,
That in his plowing, bury death down,
Beyond the tomb’s door sealed.
Greatly afflicted, by your stripes I’m healed;
The limbs of your cross, my life-giving tree,
My glory and boast over my enemy,
My sin, which shall never, never prevail over me.
Life this week has me longing for resurrection. Brutality, disease, folly, and well, sin, has got me longing for that for which I have only had glimpses.
In February, artist Keaton Sapp and I began a project which would take us through Lent and to Easter. As we planned in November of 2019, how could we have imagined how February would turn and March and April play out? Much of life has gotten away from me. Learning about new things and new ways to do old things have also played into the cumulative weariness of this season. I hadn’t even finished my part of the project. I had one more poem to write before the online reception we are planning for next weekend. And then came this week.
It is Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene whose experiences in John’s gospel speak to me of the utter heart break of life without a resurrection. These last weeks, have reminded me of the heart break.
Repeatedly throughout the Scriptures, the cry is, “How long, Lord?” That we are still crying, “How long?” does not mean that the waiting is unending. For some, and my hope is with their hope, they have seen with their own eyes the beginning of the new day. And though we still wait, they wait with us, and tell us, “One day….”
You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
When will the killing stop? When will the crying
Be given over to joy, tears wiped away?
When will laughter replace our sighing—
The night’s fear cleared by the rise of new day?
When will mothers no longer give their sons
To wars which always take more than their share?
When be armed with grace, not hate, not guns,
Nor left to die by those who don’t care?
Funerals are the last things mothers do
For those whom they’ve carried, delivered, lost—
For those whom they’ve raised and prayed over too;
Their tears are the price paid by love’s cost.
One day with them Surprise shall call in Grace
And Resurrection wipe the tears from our face.