Ps 137: 1,3 – sorrow
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
As I was researching this weeks sermon and devotions I utilized the internet to get a brief survey of the way that the lament (complaint) psalms are though about and taught. Today's is of particular interest. In one commentary Psalm 137 is presented as a complaint inspired by sorrow. And we can see why, 'By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept.' It is written at the time of or soon after the Babylonian Empire had overcome Judah the city of Jerusalem. Many were slaughtered, many taken into forced captivity and some left behind to find a way to survive. This is a song of the people who were forced to leave home and land and perhaps even family, for Babylon. Theirs is the sorrow of a traumatizing .
Traumatizing loss affects us deeply because it never seems to go away. In my own experience, just when I think I've finally found a way to live with some peace and joy, another circumstance or experience, even something that isn't traumatizing in itself, can bring the memories, the pain, the shame, the loss, rushing back so that I experience it all over again. Pain is isolating. So having a venue in which to give words to suffering and pain is vitally important. And this is what we see in this Psalm. The people of Judah are deeply aggrieved. But instead of remaining silent they cry out to God and put their pain into words. Yes, some of those words are troubling for us to hear. That bit about dashing Babylonian babies heads against rocks is particular ugly. But lets not misinterpret this. The Psalm doesn't serve to encourage or condone that behavior. Nor does it suggest that God's response will be to mandate such behavior. The Psalmist is honestly expressing the dept of pain that the people feel, the anger, the violent impulse. But it is safely placed in the crucible of a complaint to God. So, this psalm offers us too a practice for action when we are frozen and isolated by pain. God is powerful enough to hold and heal our deepest anguish and great anger.
But before we conclude today's reflection, we really must acknowledge that this Psalm isn't only about generic trauma, loss and pain. It is specific. It is about political and military oppression and forced emigration. The trauma is specific. And opens up entirely new vistas for us to hold in contemplation and prayer. Judah is forced to leave their homeland. People leaving their homeland for another has been in the news a great deal lately. Forced by the threat of violence by drug cartel's in Central America, and by war in Syria. And these traumatized emigrants have not generally been welcomed or received with hospitality. This Psalm exposes us to the deep pain and sorrow of all those whose simple and innocent lives are disrupted by political and military violence and injustice. And it does so under the assumption that God cares deeply about the cries of those whose lives are disrupted and traumatized in this manner. So an honest encounter with the Psalm 137 not only gives us a place for and practice in response to our own sorrow and pain, but it also exposes us to the sorrow and pain of the emigrant and teaches us to listen with the ear of God.
Today's Prayer – Give us the courage, God who is ever listening, to give voice to our pain, our frustration and even our anger. Assure us that you are both strong and loving enough to bear our burdens and accept our criticism. Make these times of complaint into holy experiences of comfort, hope and inspiration that we might not only survive, but thrive through difficult and challenging times.