Saturday, July 10, 2021 (Day 40)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 40 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
I urgently hoped for the Lord.
The Lord bent down toward me and heard my voice,
bought me up from the roiling pit,
from the thickest mire.
And set my feet on a crag, made my steps firm.
And put in my mouth a new song—praise to our God.
May many see and fear and trust in the Lord.
An Opening Word
Walter Brueggemann says that Psalm 40 echoes the entirety of our salvation story: that God delivers us from one thing only for trouble to come again, then bringing us to the place of safety only for another hardship to unfold, “the pilgrimage of faith simultaneously includes renewal and trouble.” I have seen this to be true, poignantly so in the last year (remember even amid the deepest of coronavirus trouble those pictures of the industrial fog lifting over our largest cities as people sheltered in place?). It happens in the intimate rhythms of our own lives, and in the grander scale of global hope, and terror.
Today’s mystic text offers us another view of the same landscape. There is a collection of poems and prayers called “The Soul Speaks,” that was written in the late thirteenth century. We know nothing of the author except that she lived out beyond the city of Lille, a city on the modern day border of France and Belgium later renowned for ornamental lace. Knowing only what we learn of her from her poems, scholars call her “The French Beguine.”
From the poem below, addressed to other Beguines (non-monastic women living in religious community in the 13th century), outlines a life of pain. It as if she is speaking from the land of the dead or even the kingdom of heaven, advising those who are still among the living, helping them to preserver through the inevitable suffering of life. She admits her own weeping and complaint and tries to offer hope: there will be comfort, in its own time, and “your heart will burn with love.”
Prayer from the Mystics: The French Beguine (Thirteenth Century)
Beguines who hear these words,
if life on earth makes you weep and complain,
find your comfort in God:
know that it is God’s will
that keeps you dwelling here below,
and the more your hearts burn with love
—as mine did, when I lived—
the more lovely to God you will be.
It is the color that God loves best,
the color in which God is clothed.
In this you will be like God.