1 O God, please listen to my prayer;
do not ignore my plea.
2 My anxious thoughts make me distraught;
O hear and answer me.
3 I’m troubled by the voice of foes,
by their malicious stare;
For they bring suffering to me—
their hatred I must bear.
4 Within me anguish grips my heart;
death’s terrors have come near.
5 I tremble and am terrified;
I’m overwhelmed by fear.
6 “O that I, like a dove, had wings!
Then I would fly away
7 And be at rest; I’d flee from here
and in the desert stay.
8 “Then would I to my hiding-place
for refuge take my flight,
Far from the raging of the storm
and from the tempest’s might.”
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune St Flavian here.
Ever felt bullied? I haven’t really, but at school I hated the teasing. They mocked my accent, straight back and treble solos in Assembly. Dad said it was character-forming, but I still loathe teasing. True bullying, though, is harrowing, undermining confidence, damaging self-esteem, eroding equilibrium, even making life seem worthless. It’s not uncommon – at school, at work, at home – and all the more insidious when in a passive aggressive disguise, masquerading as silence, over-politeness, or those surreptitious glances that can so disarm us.
Is Psalm 55 about bullying? Some think it is David feeling tormented by his son or his predecessor. Who knows? But in the writer’s dis-ease, ‘anguish grips my heart’. As if being hounded by a hawk, the Psalmist longs for the wings of a dove, to fly away to hiding and rest.
Mendelssohn set verse six to a haunting melody. Ironically, I had to sing it in Assembly. Looking straight at those who ragged me, I sang, ‘far away would I roam’. It’s sheer poetry – a prayer to God for help – and the singing of it was enough to strengthen and encourage me, so that I need not fly away, but find in God’s faithful presence all I needed to hang in there until teasers became friends, which some of them remain. When we really are bullied, though, we may need to get out of the way; it would be folly not to do so. All the more reason then prayerfully to open ourselves to God, perhaps with St Teresa of Avila:
Nothing distress you,
nothing affright you,
God will abide.
Love in due measure
run to Love’s call!
Faith burning brightly
be your soul’s shelter;
who hopes, believing,
(Rejoice & Sing 548)
The Revd Nigel Uden, is a minister serving in CambrIdge and as a Moderator of the General Assembly