Monday, August 23, 2021 (Day 79)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 79 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
God, nations have come to Your estate,
they have defiled your holy temple.
They have turned Jerusalem to ruins.
They have given Your servants’ corpses
as food to the fowl of the heavens,
the flesh of Your faithful to the beasts of the earth…
How long, O Lord, will You rage forever,
Your fury burn like fire? …
Help us, our rescuing God…
Let the captive’s groan come before You,
by Your arm’s greatness unbind those marked for death.
An Opening Word
Psalm 79 comes out of a very specific historical context, when Jerusalem was destroyed, and the temple was defiled. This Psalm is full of grief and sorrow, with a common refrain, “How long, O Lord?” You can hear how distressed the Psalmist is: “help us,” hear the “captive’s groan,” “unbind those marked for death.” The litany of sorrow is tangible. Every time the faithful become embattled in war, armed conflict, hostility, or discord, this Psalm holds a renewed kind of power. We keep this Psalm in our library knowing that we or someone we love may need it (or already has).
Vincent Van Gogh says that mystics live “a life of devotion, working and renouncing frivolous things” loving life with “its storms, its tides, and its depths: it has its pearls too.” In other words, there is something distinctly hard-fought about the mystics life, not ignorant of the “groan” and cry for help that comes in times of distress. Poet Henry Vaughan is thought to have expressed his mystic poetry after prolonged sickness and pain, alongside the experience of reading poet George Herbert which was for him a “spiritual quickening and the gift of gracious feeling.” He wrote at night, which “affording opportunities of solitude, inward silence, mystery, and excitement that were most receptive to sensing the Divine Presence.” His poems about starlight capture this lunar spirituality. In a poem entitled “Midnight,” he writes, “What emanations, Quick vibrations, and bright stirs are there? O what bright quickness, active brightness, and celestial flows.”
Prayer from the Mystics: Henry Vaughan (1621–1695) from poem “Love-Sick”
…how shall I truly love the?
O that thy Spirit would so strongly move me,
That thou wert pleas’d to shed thy grace so farr
As to make me all pure love, flesh a star!
A star that would ne’r set, but even rise,
So rise and run, as to out-run these skies,
These narrow skies (narrow to me) that barre,
So barre me in…