1 I cry for mercy to the LORD; To him I lift my voice in prayer. 2 Before the LORD I bring my plea; To him my trouble I declare.
3 Each time my spirit faints in me, You are the one who knows my way; For in the path on which I walk A hidden snare for me they lay.
4 Look to my right hand and take note: There is not one concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares For me in my adversity.
5 I cry aloud to you, O LORD: “You are my hiding place in strife. You are the one sustaining me; You keep me in the land of life.”
6 LORD, listen to my cry for help, For I am in extremity. Save me from those who seek my life, Because they are too strong for me.
7 So that I may give thanks to you, From prison’s darkness set me free. The righteous then will gather round, Because you’ve shown your love to me.
I’m touched by the trust implicit in this prayer. Clearly the Psalmist has experienced God’s sustaining and the life-giving ‘hiding place’ in which she has been upheld in the past. This prayer is offered in expectation that God will hear her cry now.
I’m also moved by the metaphor of the prison. Prison, I have learned, is not a place where hope is often experienced, or trust is easily built. Our national life uses the prison system to punish, remove ‘dangerous’ people from society, keep others safe, and to rehabilitate. True rehabilitation is rare and there is little care for younger offenders. Suicide rates for those suffering mental ill health in prison are appalling.
Is this Psalmist in the sort of despair that a young, mentally ill lad might be, who is just old enough to be in an adult prison? or feeling imprisoned? We hear of arrests and imprisonments that make us reflect: green protesters by their hundreds; Hong Kong democracy demonstrators; British citizens in Guantanamo; and, not so very long ago, in Northern Ireland where nearly 2,000 people were interned for their political beliefs without a trial.
I DO NOT suggest who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in ANY case, I merely reflect on an absence of a Psalmist-like hope in the prison system. If there is no hope for either release, or newness of life through rehabilitation, does a ‘system’ dehumanise? and who do we expect to act? and who is crying out and making voices heard?
This Psalmist has both hope and experience of God’s justice. Jesus’ ‘Manifesto’ (Luke 4:18- 19) promises “release to the captives”. Do we say that both Psalm and manifesto are ‘only’ metaphors for an experience of moving to ‘quality of life’ in Christ? Let us also raise prayers and voices on behalf of just, decent and hope-filled attitudes and behaviours towards those for whom our government is responsible.
O God! Hear your children when they cry out, when their despair feels like imprisonment.
O God! Hear the prayers of those unjustly imprisoned, and bring your justice to liberate them.
O God! hear the cries of those in prison because of their crimes, bring new hope, and challenge us all to speak out on behalf of humanity. In the name of the one who brings release to the captives we ask it. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Rosalind Selby is principal of Northern College in Manchester and a member of Didsbury URC.
Sing Psalms! (C) The Psalmody and Worship Committee, the Free Church of Scotland