No Cry of Distress

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Psalm 144

1 Blessed be the LORD my rock!
who trains my hands to fight and my fingers to battle;

2 My help and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield in whom I trust,
who subdues the peoples under me.

3 O LORD, what are we that you should care for us?
mere mortals that you should think of us?

4 We are like a puff of wind;
our days are like a passing shadow.

5 Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down;
touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.

6 Hurl the lightning and scatter them;
shoot out your arrows and rout them.

7 Stretch out your hand from on high;
rescue me and deliver me from the great waters,
from the hand of foreign peoples,

8 Whose mouths speak deceitfully
and whose right hand is raised in falsehood.

9 O God, I will sing to you a new song;
I will play to you on a ten-stringed lyre.

10 You give victory to kings
and have rescued David your servant.

11 Rescue me from the hurtful sword
and deliver me from the hand of foreign peoples,

12 Whose mouths speak deceitfully
and whose right hand is raised in falsehood.
13 May our sons be like plants well nurtured from their youth,
and our daughters like sculptured corners of a palace.

14 May our barns be filled to overflowing with all manner
of crops;
may the flocks in our pastures increase by thousands
and tens of thousands;
may our cattle be fat and sleek.

15 May there be no breaching of the walls, no going into exile,
no wailing in the public squares.

16 Happy are the people of whom this is so!
happy are the people whose God is the LORD!


In my Western context, I find that some people tend to tune out when a psalm begins with God training us for war and subduing our enemies. We prefer a more gentle, persuasive God than one who rides out to battle.

In your prayer today, consider the reading of this psalm for a Ukrainian in 2022. How does it sound now?

As we look not only at Ukranian loss of life but also the fatalities for the Russians in this war, is it not the case that humans are like breath, their days like a fleeting shadow? In a newscast I heard a Ukrainian civilian volunteer say, “I wish God would destroy the Russians.” Is this blasphemous, or is it a plea for God to advocate on behalf of the downtrodden?

Part your heavens, Lord, and come down;
touch the mountains, so that they smoke.
Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy;
shoot your arrows and rout them.
Reach down your hand from on high;
deliver me and rescue me …
from the hands of foreigners
whose mouths are full of lies,
whose right hands are deceitful.

This is not xenophobia, but the righteous outrage of those who wish to live in peace in their own homeland. And how much of war, including the war in Ukraine, has been conducted through lies and deceit? Should not people in such dire conflicts cry out to the Deliverer?

But we must not forget the end goal. The cry is not for God to enact hateful revenge. No, it is a cry for our children to grow up healthy and whole (v. 12); a cry for our pantries to have enough food and our farms to feed our communities (v. 13); a cry for a homeland with no breached walls, no prisoners of war, “no cry of distress in our streets” (v. 14). It is a cry for justice to the God of justice, for “blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.”

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California, where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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