By Emily Hylden
A Reading from Psalm 88
1 O LORD, my God, my Savior,
by day and night I cry to you.
2 Let my prayer enter into your presence;
incline your ear to my lamentation.
3 For I am full of trouble;
my life is at the brink of the grave.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I have become like one who has no strength;
5 Lost among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
6 Whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
7 You have laid me in the depths of the Pit,
in dark places, and in the abyss.
8 Your anger weighs upon me heavily,
and all your great waves overwhelm me.
9 You have put my friends far from me;
you have made me to be abhorred by them;
I am in prison and cannot get free.
10 My sight has failed me because of trouble;
LORD, I have called upon you daily;
I have stretched out my hands to you.
11 Do you work wonders for the dead?
will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
12 Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave?
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
13 Will your wonders be known in the dark?
or your righteousness in the country where all
14 But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
15 LORD, why have you rejected me?
why have you hidden your face from me?
16 Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the
point of death;
I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.
17 Your blazing anger has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me;
18 They surround me all day long like a flood;
they encompass me on every side.
19 My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,
and darkness is my only companion.
Only one psalm in all the psalter ends without a note of hope; this is that one. Encompassing the breadth of human experience and expression, this is an important prayer to include in the collection. Some people are given to gloss over hardship and to stubbornly (delusionally?) always see a “silver lining.” Some are more prone to cynicism (as I myself admitted to someone earlier this week). So while there are scads of praise psalms, declaring God’s goodness and mercy and blessing and power, we must also reckon with this murkier perspective.
This psalm has been a talisman for those who suffer mental illness, a disease on a sharp rise in recent years, and so we would do well to meditate upon it. These words mention many times the isolation suffered by the author, cut off from friends and loved ones, removed from community as one who is dead. Death is a major theme, both in describing how the author feels, where she finds herself, and also as a goad to God. The author fights for her life, challenging God that she’s only any good to him if she is alive and breathing.
In my own struggles with depression, that is what I have found to be key: breathing. Our breath is an echo of the breath of God which he breathed into each of our nostrils, just as he did with Adam in the beginning. Each breath is a reminder to us that God is present and active within and around us, buoying us up, sustaining our lives, inhale by exhale.
The Rev. Emily R. Hylden resides with her priest husband and three sons in Lafayette, Louisiana. Find her podcasting at Emily Rose Meditations.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of North Mbale – The Church of the Province of Uganda
The Consortium for Christian Unity