By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows* there
we hung up our harps.
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If we have known the grief of displacement, or loss, or weeping
without sound; then we will know the tune of this Psalm. A beautiful spot, willows reaching down into the river, but we are not at home and we may never go home again. This is more than a song of homesickness; this is a song of captivity and despair.
This Psalm became my own story for a while when we moved to our first
church. The land all around me was beautiful, but my sense of community had been lost. I remembered fondly the closeness of seminary friends and daily worship. I could sing the Lord’s song all day there, but now I was far away from those melodies and I could not utter them with my solitary voice.
As I prayed this Psalm I recognized within myself despondency so
complete that even my own voice, like the strings of the harp, was hung in the trees. There are other Psalms that speak of hopelessness but this short Psalm describes the impossibility of joy. And there are certainly times when true joy seems a distant memory.
And yet, God’s gift of joy is not about being happy or feeling good.
God’s joy is about connection and communion. What the homesick have not yet learned is that connection with God and communion with the mystical body of Christ is at all times and everywhere present. And while I can acknowledge this truth and even believe it with my mind, my heart remains broken.
Homeland is an important anchor for human beings.The tilt and color
of the land, the familiar smells, and the sky grown blue or grey speak to our rootedness upon the earth. It matters little if our home place corresponds with accepted images of beauty or not. Recognition and remembrance speak to us of belonging.
As I envision the world of the Psalm by the river I began to get a sense of a cool, caressing breeze because everywhere are harbingers of God’s good creation, even in a foreign land. Then, very softly, I began to hear strings plucked by the wind and making a brand new music. Swaying harps and branches singing-praying-weeping. If God can make disciples from rocks then surely God can make music from discarded and abandoned harps. For God is true home, true rootedness, and we have been given voices a little lower than angels in order to sing on the river.