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by Fr. Ajit John
Reading from Psalm 77
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
4 You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
and remember the years of long ago.
6 I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
7 “Will the Lord spurn for ever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
10 And I say, “It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
11 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
the very deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Trials must be endured, we are told, so that our souls are filled with joy and faith. Today we see that Psalm 77 provides a framework for such endurance through what we may call practical recollection.
First, the psalmist calls for something deliberate, not casual. In the day of my trouble, I call out, I think, I consider, I commune with my heart. Recollection is more than casual reflection before sleep overtakes.
Secondly, recollection can look like cross-examination. Verses 7-9 provide a series of questions we must address to ourselves. The questions are rhetorical. Will the Lord spurn his people forever? Does his steadfast love cease? Do his promises have a best-before date? Does God forget to be gracious? Can God shut up his compassion? The answers are always, “Of course not.”
Admittedly, if the trials are really serious, the recollection could be dead on arrival. Imagine a spouse in a failed marriage, or someone searching relentlessly for employment, or someone in the Congo having just seen a loved one killed for their faith. Some things overwhelm life, and a recollection requires God’s grace.
Finally, there is public worship, the great communal recollection. When we are emptied of hope, we stand with the faithful and let them recollect for us the faithfulness of God. Let them recount God’s proven acts of deliverance. Psalm 77 functions as such a public litany, a type of “reversed thunder,” to use George Herbert’s phrase. Simply to press in with the faithful and hear the litany of God’s unfailing faithfulness is sometimes enough:
When the waters saw you, O God,
When the waters saw you, they were afraid,
The very deep trembled.
The Reverend Ajit John is an associate priest at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux, a vibrant multi-ethnic parish in Toronto, Canada.