This is the next installment in my psalms paraphrase project titled, Ordinary Prayer. In Psalm 13, which you may read HERE, David tells a story of personal struggle in which begins with his admission of his experience. It moves on to his cry to the Lord, and it concludes with his full awareness of the Lord’s covenant faithfulness to him which wells up in praise and song.
I wait and wait.
Do you ever think of me?
Will you ever look my way?
I spend the day in my head.
I try and work it out, but worry wears me out
And leaves me sad from morning till night.
How long will haters brag and have the upper hand?
Think of me and speak to me O Lord, my God.
Only you can lift my spirits.
If you don’t, I’ll just lie down and die,
And the haters will stand over me and gloat–
They’ll high five each other because I’ve been dropped.
But I have thrown myself on your strong, certain love;
My heart swells at the news of your salvation.
It swells into song — a song to you
Because you’ve done more for me, than I ever dared hope.
The psalms are ordinary prayers. They were composed by kings and prophets and sung by shepherds and fisherman. They were good for singing in the Temple, and they were good for the Galilean countryside. These are the words and word pictures of God’s people who themselves, like us, fought the fight of faith in the midst of extraordinary events and ordinary days.
Along with praying the the Psalms, I’ve undertaken, it seems, a project to paraphrase them. I have a high esteem of the imagination and recognize the value of translating metaphors through different words in order to get at the meaning. Some of the psalms can be difficult for us to translate so that they mean something to us. Once however, we get to their meaning, we find that they express the life of faith, the desires of the heart, and the needs of those who find themselves in a place where there is nothing left but to pray.
Here is my paraphrase of Psalm 12. To compare, you may read a translation of Psalm 12 HERE.
Help! I’ve no friends left.
All the good and godly have disappeared from among Adam’s kids.
Not a good one remains.
On social media, they’re all cool and chill,
But in their secret groups, they speaks hate and lies.
May the Lord unplug all your devices
And silence your streaming feeds of lies,
You who say, “With our algorithms and bots,
Who can silence our posts?”
Because they steal from the poor,
Because those who need are targets,
Because they have no words but groans,
I will help them myself, says the Lord;
I will lift their eyes from their screens
And show them the place for which they’ve longed.
The Lord speaks with a single heart.
And his posts are worth it: true and bright.
You couldn’t compose them better if you had a week.
The Lord means what he says;
He’ll defend you from the mob.
The trolls are out there around every corner,
And the filth they post is praised by Adam’s kids.
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.