From the Psalms:
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?
For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;
With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 130 (BCP version) – August 22, 2012)
Psalm 130 is one of the seven “pentitential psalms” of the church (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143), a tradition that stretches back to the Sixth Century if not earlier. It is also one of the “songs of ascents” (Psalms 120-134) that are believed to have been sung by pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem or possibly when climbing up the Temple Mount for festival celebrations. Somehow it strikes me as both odd and poignant that a song or poem beginning “Out of the depths” is called a song of “ascent” – from the deepest sloughs of despond the poet calls out the Highest. Ascent, indeed!
This is a song of longing: my favorite verse is Verse 5, “My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” Sometimes when this psalm is sung or chanted I find myself wanting just to stop at the verse. In the repetition of the words “more than watchman for the morning” I want to lower my voice, slow my words, shake my head, stare into space, give play to the longing in my soul, sigh deeply, acknowledge the sense that God sometimes seems to be absent, wallow in abandonment.
And yet it is not a psalm of resignation and surrender. It does not end with those words, but forcefully pleads its case that God will appear, that God will have mercy, that God will offer redemption. This is a song of God’s Presence, not of God’s absence. Even in the depths, God in some way is there.
Last year my daughter and I toured the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. At one point during the tour, the guides extinguished all of the lights and we were plunged into the deepest darkness I have ever experienced. But in that blackness the eye continues to seek for light; you can almost feel the optic nerves at the back of your eyeballs, the rods and cones of the retina, straining to find light. This psalm is like that; the soul of the psalmist is convinced, even in that deepest, darkest, pitch black slough of despond, that the Light of God is still to be found. The soul strains to see God.
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.