Meditation on Ps. 31.9-16
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[a]
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror[b] to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Although the Psalmist is writing in a very different context, there are extraordinary echoes for us here of our present situation, even being avoided in the street… The parallels are not exact, but verses 12-13 could have chilling resonances for some elderly people in care homes. Not that there is a plot to take their life, but some of the present public discourse implies that such lives have already been written off, are the inevitable and necessary casualties of the crisis.
And there is, buried or not so buried in many of us, terror, bound up in a strange way with grief at so much loss of opportunity, loss of intimacy. All sorts of things I planned for the next few months are gone; I live both with the frustration and sorrow of that, and also the real fear that being in a high-risk group I could be dead in a fortnight.
And yet, and yet, and yet, like so many lament psalms, this makes a turn to trust and to prayer. God is God, beyond knowing, and yet God has made [himself] known – we can cry out to [him] ‘You are my God’ – we can accept, and draw deep comfort from, a sense that our times are in [his] hands, and in all those times, nothing can separate us from [his] love (Rom. 8).
I am struck too by the way the beginning and end of this passage make links with that most ancient of blessings, the one from Numbers 6. I give it in the version I learned, long ago:
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you
May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you his peace.
Christopher Southgate, April 21 2020