1 As pants the deer for flowing streams, So longs my soul, O God, for you. 2 I thirst for God, the living God; When can I meet with God anew?
3 My tears have been my constant food Both in the night and in the day, While all day long insistently, “Where is this God of yours?” they say.
4 As I pour out my soul in grief, These things I do remember still: How with the multitude I went Up to God’s house on Zion hill.
In their procession I would lead As we approached with cheerful song And shouts of joy and thankfulness, Rejoicing with the festive throng.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed in me? Trust God, for I will praise him yet; My Saviour and my God is he.
6 My soul within me is depressed; I therefore will recall you still From Jordan’s land, from Hermon’s heights And from the top of Mizar hill.
7 Deep calls to deep, as with a roar Your waterfalls cascading roll. Your waves and breakers fall on me; They overwhelm my very soul.
8 By day the LORD directs his love; His song remains with me at night— A prayer to him who is my God, My only source of life and light.
9 This I will say to God my Rock, “Why have you so forgotten me? Why must I go about in grief, Downtrodden by the enemy?”
10 My bones in mortal agony Are groaning, while my en’mies say, “Wherever is this God of yours?” They scoff at me throughout the day.
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so disturbed in me? Trust God, for I will praise him yet; My Saviour and my God is he.
The tune Finnart is suggested for this Psalm – you can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing it here.
After all the liturgical hijinks of Easter it is little wonder that today is called Low Sunday. Not all of us can remain forever on that peak of celebration.
In truth, feeling ‘low’ is an understatement for more and more people. Stress, depression and mental torment are significant and life-shaping for many. Experts think this may be accounted for by a greater willingness to speak of mental ill-health, by the world feeling more bewildering and tense, and by the far-reaching effects of this decade’s financial austerity.
Today’s Psalm feels so appropriate, for it finds the Psalmist at a pretty low ebb. She feels far from God: she yearns, she longs, she thirsts. She is so depressed that she’s unable to speak to God; the question, ‘how long will this go on?’ is asked ‘of no-one in particular and of anyone willing to listen’, as Patrick Woodhouse puts it. Somehow, though, crying out in that way seems helpful. Just acknowledging the hell she is in sparks some memories – ancient encounters with God found in the history books, anecdotes of God’s light dispelling her own previous shadowlands. Those reminiscences nudge her thoughts toward God’s loving kindness. ‘Yes’, she seems to say, ‘there was a time when God was my Rock.’ Then, the black dog re-appears. ‘Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?’ Yet the memories are enough to prompt the realisation that trusting in God might be hard but it’s her best hope.
If depression is part of life for us, or of the lives of our intimates, it may be we specially appreciate this Psalm. Could it be that it liberates us from the crippling fear that faith and depression must never dialogue with each other? Psalm 42 models for us an honest conversation, where telling it like it is – even if seemingly into thin air – begins to quench our thirsting for the living God.
Woodhouse suggests verse 9 has special power. ‘Deep speaks to deep’ intimates an enticing prospect that when we are at our lowest, we may be more open to the one who is the ground of our being. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘when I am weak then I am strong.’ Is it that when we are at our worst, we have no defences left to erect between ourselves and God, and thus can gradually come to know again God’s reliably resurrected love, so broad and long, so high and deep?
Our generation’s readiness to be real about mental health lends to Psalm 42 a new power to speak to us and for us. May that auger well for the equilibrium of society and the resilience of our faith.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise God, my help and my God.