By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from Psalm 77
1 I will cry aloud to God;
I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;
I refused to be comforted.
3 I think of God, I am restless,
I ponder, and my spirit faints.
4 You will not let my eyelids close;
I am troubled and I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old;
I remember the years long past;
6 I commune with my heart in the night;
I ponder and search my mind.
7 Will the Lord cast me off for ever?
will he no more show his favor?
8 Has his loving-kindness come to an end for ever?
has his promise failed for evermore?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
has he, in his anger, withheld his compassion?
10 And I said, “My grief is this:
the right hand of the Most High has lost its power.”
11 I will remember the works of the LORD,
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12 I will meditate on all your acts
and ponder your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy;
who is so great a god as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders
and have declared your power among the peoples.
15 By your strength you have redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, O God;
the waters saw you and trembled;
the very depths were shaken.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed to and fro;
18 The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was in the sea,
and your paths in the great waters,
yet your footsteps were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Verses in both 1 and 2 Chronicles mention that Asaph was the great singer and musician of David’s and Solomon’s era, and in 2 Chronicles Asaph is praised as a prophet in his musical compositions (2 Chron. 29:30).
But in this psalm’s fervently emotional verses Asaph speaks as the lamenting Everyman, who cries out to God day and night. (One version says, “my sore ran in the night, and ceased not.”) As much as Asaph seeks the Lord, he cannot find him; even when he remembers God, he remains troubled, and his soul refuses to be comforted. We are presented with a God who at once withholds himself and and is nonetheless present, but his presence is torment, because it keeps the psalmist’s eyes wide open, as if forcing him to look into the darkness and its terrors (v. 4). Asaph’s inability to speak compounds his torment, and his searching questions (vv. 7-9) as to what has become of God’s mercy poignantly magnify his sense of abandonment. In these rhetorical interrogations he speaks for every suffering human being who has ever asked whether God has forgotten to be God.
Although Asaph acknowledges his “infirmity,” he does not permit it to have the last word, and he forthrightly commits himself to a three-step plan of action: remember the Lord’s works, meditate on them, and talk about them. He remembers and then recaps God’s wonders, and speaks of how he saved his people in their time of captivity, having led them through the sea either himself, or by human instruments (Moses and Aaron).
No one passes through this life without sorrow and loss, or without experiencing the dark night of the soul through which Asaph struggled to find the God who he believed had left him. Like Asaph, we must remember and meditate on God’s past and present wonders and on his eternal power to deliver us from darkness. After that, we must remember to talk about it.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Hereford (Church of England)
The Diocese of Pennsylvania