Psalm 13, 29 June 14 – How long?

GreenwichThis Sunday we hear a simple but urgent lament in Psalm 13, in which the key question is ‘How long?‘ That internal anxious silence before we receive an inkling of an answer, some source of relief, comfort or bounty – all ideas that jostle into the six short verses of this lament.

How long have you forgotten me O Lord? How long will you hide your face from me? (v. 1)

In three short sections, it moves from lament to petition and then a vow to trust and rejoice in divine love.

Music and balance

The male voice group present a paraphrase and tune by Steve Bell. The people’s refrain is, you guessed it:

O Lord how long?

Image: Wikimedia commons
Image: Wikimedia commons

Our song selection continues to seek primarily a meaningful medium for the message of the psalm. It’s also informed by the need for a balance between familiarity and freedom, inheritance and innovation. Something new, something old, often borrowed – always, we hope, gold.

So this week we go slightly country and western for Steve Bell’s nice little song. But watch this space for a fantastic blast from the Renaissance past when we present one of Roland de Lassus‘ many lovely five-part psalm settings. The male voice group will introduce a taste of Lassus on the last Sunday in July when Psalm 105 first appears. Then we offer the full mixed-voice monty as it reappears on 10 August. It’s worth noting in your calendar.

Retrospective on the solstice

Happily nobody noticed, but I did not post last week due indisposition. A quick revisit.

There’s no hint of it in Psalm 86 set for that Sunday 22 June, but it was pretty much the shortest day in the southern hemisphere calendar. Keith and Helen, recently returned from Arctic zones and other adventurous northern exposures, offered one of their well-crafted and delivered reflections informed by this coincidence, although the Solstice itself has no particular significance in the Christian year. No, not true: we did borrow it in the days of the old Julian (and northern hemisphere) calendar for the pivotal festival of Christmas.

Keith and his collaborators built carefully and effectively on the metaphor of reaching the nadir of cold times, be they astronomical, physical, social, emotional or spiritual. The readings, including Psalm 86, recognised these circumstances, providing comfort and inspiration.

We sang a home-grown song in which the tune, in both verse chants and refrain, fell gradually to a low point before rising in hope. An obvious device, no doubt, yet undeniably in harmony with the liturgical concept.

15C clock, Basel museumKeith drew our attention to centuries of spiritual thought on the cycles of heaven and earth. I was reminded that in the early 16th century and a long way from the Greenwich Observatory pictured, a Polish medic, cleric and astronomer named Copernicus hesitated for years before finally being pushed into publishing irrefutable evidence that the ancient Greek and Egyptian observers including Ptolemy (who lived not long after Jesus) were wrong in one major premise. The earth was not, in fact, the centre of the universe and creation. It actually rotated in orbit around the sun, not the other way around.

The established church was stuck in a Ptolemaic system based on some very dubious readings of biblical texts – including psalms such as 19 and 93 for some obscure and over-literal reason –  for fear that science would undermine belief in the inherited wisdom and authority of the church. How timely was Rachel’s recent reflection on Trinity Sunday, highlighting allegorical rather than literal aspects to the many creation stories.

6 thoughts on “Psalm 13, 29 June 14 – How long?

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