This paraphrase of Psalm 12 was written before the current political and ecological atmosphere. Read it as you would have seen the world in 2011…Now read it as you do today.
A decade ago, many might have critiqued this as depressingly modern with no glory or images of God as a monarch. Instead of the desired pomp, we sing of “lying lips that… keep the truth out of reach” and the image of God as a tongue-tamer who saves us from our Babel sounds.
Perhaps these days we can grasp the sense of poignant prophetic petition which is so necessary for the Church in this Covid-shaped generation. I dare not rehearse the Babel sounds we hear in 2020.
The legend is that David wrote this whilst he was the rock star soldier in the jealous Saul’s court. Even he could not escape the cold war of gossip, complaints and backbiting. David despised destructive tongues due to the words themselves and the underlying pride.
The taming of our words is more than a personal habit-forming tool or a secret to success. It is an ethical crisis which relates to how we cultivate community. The taming of what we say also challenges us to tame our resources of knowledge—who we listen to.
Hymn lyrics like these reclaim and retain what was such a sacred part of the biblical tradition: the lament. There are times when the Church must celebrate life together, and when the Church must lead the way in offering up tears, not for hate but for healing. The lament defends no political sides, offers no bandage for pain, and lays out no medals of honour. It presents the wound in the open, claiming no winners, ultimately pleading for the one true Healer to see and step in.
The best thing the Church can do for the salvation of the world is in singing the blues, threading together the poetry of pain with the shifting of hearts towards purposes higher than our desires.
Tongue-Tamer, I am amazed at the yeastiness of a word uttered: bringing life and death, sacrifice and success. I am astounded at the flawlessness of Your word: transforming, transfixing, loving without limit. Deliver us from the cacophony of voices seeking our attention, and may our ears be drawn ever closer to Your voice, “pure like silver, fire refined”. Amen.
The Rev’d William Young, Pastor, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, Washington DC