By Sarah Cornwell
Reading from Psalm 55
1 Hear my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my petition.
2 Listen to me and answer me;
I have no peace, because of my cares.
3 I am shaken by the noise of the enemy
and by the pressure of the wicked;
4 For they have cast an evil spell upon me
and are set against me in fury.
5 My heart quakes within me,
and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
6 Fear and trembling have come over me,
and horror overwhelms me.
7 And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
8 I would flee to a far-off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.
9 I would hasten to escape
from the stormy wind and tempest.”
10 Swallow them up, O Lord;
confound their speech;
for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
11 Day and night the watchmen make their rounds
upon her walls,
but trouble and misery are in the midst of her.
12 There is corruption at her heart;
her streets are never free of oppression and deceit.
13 For had it been an adversary who taunted me,
then I could have borne it;
or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me,
then I could have hidden from him.
14 But it was you, a man after my own heart,
my companion, my own familiar friend.
15 We took sweet counsel together,
and walked with the throng in the house of God.
16 Let death come upon them suddenly;
let them go down alive into the grave;
for wickedness is in their dwellings, in their very midst.
17 But I will call upon God,
and the Lord will deliver me.
18 In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday,
I will complain and lament,
and he will hear my voice.
19 He will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me;
for there are many who fight me.
20 God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me and bring them down;
they never change; they do not fear God.
21 My companion stretched forth his hand against his comrade;
he has broken his covenant.
22 His speech is softer than butter,
but war is in his heart.
23 His words are smoother than oil,
but they are drawn swords.
24 Cast your burden upon the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous stumble.
25 For you will bring the bloodthirsty and deceitful
down to the pit of destruction, O God.
26 They shall not live out half their days,
but I will put my trust in you.
The psalm speaks of a deep longing, an awful ache to escape. The situation is dire. The watchmen day and night patrol the walls of the city, but they can do nothing for the trouble and misery that already exist within. Fear has taken root and is threatening to overwhelm the city. Even if the fortifications hold, the hearts of those within the city may fail, and they may tear one another apart. Corruption, oppression, and deceit are rampant. The hand that reaches out to bring you down may not come from an outside enemy at all, but from a very dear friend. Besieged from without, besieged from within; everyone is fearful, and fear can lead to some truly terrifying behavior.
How many of us gathered together in the walls of this world have tasted this fear? How many of us could say: “I have no peace, because of my cares”? How many of us have longed to “flee to a far to a far-off place”? How many of us with the means to try have done so? Have you ever tried to flee the crushing oppression of fear, to shake what seeks to destroy you? Did you succeed?
The enemy from without will continue to stalk us. The spectre of sickness, death, and decay will find us, no matter the wilderness in which we seek to hide. Enmity will leap out of other human hearts to harm us. But we can try and shore up the strength of our hearts so that we do not compound our misery by turning on others. Hear the words of one who is writing from the brink, and heed that counsel: “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you…”
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have five children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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