Monday, August 16, 2021 (Day 72)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 72 ( from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
God, grant your judgements to the king.
May the mountains bear peace to the people,
and the hills righteousness.
May he bring justice to the lowly of the people,
may he rescue the sons of the needy
and crush the oppressor.
May they fear you as long as the sun
and as long as the moon,
generations untold.
May he come down
like rain on new-mown grass,
like showers that moisten the earth.

An Opening Word
Psalm 72 is considered a “royal psalm,” that lifts up the possibility that a generous and wise leader can bear out God’s hopes and dreams in powerful ways. The mountains, in their own way, give protection from outside threats. And this language of “May he…” refers to the king, who the Psalmist hopes will bring justice, rescue, and abundance. I love this idea that the king’s longevity might be ‘as long as the sun…moon…generations untold” is a vision of an extended reign that brings stability and the good life for all. In that way it ends up being interpreted by many as a “messianic” psalm, one that envisions the messiah as the one who might “come down like rain on new-mown grass.” The images are provocative and relatable thousands of years later.

As a prelude to the mystics I’ll take a left turn and then return to the 13th century mystic Mechthild of Hackeborn. Someone put words in Anthony Bourdain’s mouth. Or rather the documentarians who made “Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain” used A.I. to integrate his voice into the narrative, using the text of an email that Bourdain himself wrote, but that he never read aloud. Enter the questions: Should we use technology to bring someone’s voice into the ether posthumously? Should the documentarians disclosed this in a more obvious way? In what ways does Bourdain’s estate “own” his voice or not?

Apparently this isn’t just a 21st century problem, but a 13th century problem as well. Mechthild of Hackeborn (1241–1298) was a mystic and Benedictine nun who grew up in a wealthy household of Baron von Hackeborn-Wippa and became the “chantess” of her monastery (essentially the choir director and music librarian). She was a sought after spiritual director, and people would come for miles to confide in her, disclosing the secrets of their heart. When Mechthild fell ill in her 50s, in the delirium of sickness, she had full length conversations aloud with God. Expecting that she would die from the disease, the nuns who cared for her wrote down these conversations with God in order to preserve them, but then Mechthild recovered. Who then owned these publications? Should Mechthild feel betrayed by this? Ultimately she came to peace with it. If her conversations with God helped others find spiritual peace, then they should be well-distributed, and available for those who need them.

Below is an excerpt from what became known as her “Book of Spiritual Grace.”

Prayer from the Mystics: Mechthild of Hackeborn (1241–1298)
It seemed that the Lord embraced
her with his right arm,
drawing her to himself and saying:
“Since you desire all that I desire,
I will always hold you in my embrace.
I will bear your headaches and melancholy,
sanctifying them by my sufferings”
Amen.