This Psalm tells of a God who saves and gathers – who rescues people from trouble and draws them together in praise. Perhaps Jewish people sang it in Old Testament times as memory of their exile in distant Babylon. A psalm like this would speak of an ordeal survived, of friends coming home, and of a re-set and renewal of the nation’s life.
Ruth Duck’s version above captures well the structure and content of the ancient Psalm. The heart of the text is the four middle verses – a heart with four chambers, beating with one sure and consistent rhythm. Amid all kinds of fear and hurt, God can deliver and God can be trusted. In the exposed spaces of wilderness and ocean, of empty desert and angry waves, God can give direction and calm. In the narrow confines of cell and sick-bed, God can turn darkness to light and freedom, and can lift and mend soul and body.
In the version above, these four middle verses all begin, ‘If you …’ They hold the Psalm up as a mirror, and invite us to remember our own exile experiences. When were we uprooted, taken away from all that was familiar and secure? How did that feel? Like a wasteland? A tempest? A prison? A complete draining of strength? However it felt, if we found the resources to come through, we may add our voice to this ancient chorus. We may echo the praises of Israel with the memory of our own journey back to hope. We may witness to the world that God was there, hearing us more clearly and holding us more surely than we realised at the time. That’s what the psalm means by ‘steadfast love’ (verses 1, 8, 15, 21, 31, 43).
A wasteland? A tempest? A prison? A draining of strength? Think of people you know who find life directionless, or stormy, or limiting, or exhausting … and as you pray for them, remember that Jesus shared peace and hope with many who struggled. So pray for his presence and power in these people’s lives.
The Rev’d John Proctor, retired minister, member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge