A watched pot, so the saying goes, never boils. How frustrating is that seemingly interminable waiting — for news, for decisions, for guidance or for inspiration. This Sunday we hear a simple but urgent lament in Psalm 13, in which the key question is ‘How long?’ How long will that internal anxious silence last before an inkling of an answer, some source of relief, comfort or bounty emerges – and these are 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 in the rather classic sequence from lament to petition, and finally a vow to trust and rejoice in divine love.
Plenty of good modern choices are to hand:
- The Taizé refrain O Lord hear my prayer is actually a paraphrase of words from Psalm 102, but is cleverly suggested in PFAS for this psalm as PFAS 13E.
- In NCH, a simple refrain setting by David Hurd, 1994, looks on first appearances to be unremarkable. He uses verse 3, Consider and answer me O God. However, on playing the refrain through, the innovative chord sequence suddenly attracts a second glance: Em FΔ G7 CΔ F C D9 E.
- A paraphrase and tune by Canadian singer song-writer Steve Bell is something of a favourite. The people’s refrain is, you guessed it: O Lord how long?
This last song has a bluegrass feel about it, at least the way Bell sings it. This country touch and the blues have both been featured in this web-pages for some years — they have a habit of hanging around in the memory. Rays of flickering rhythm streaming into shadowy arches more accustomed to a cappella and monastery tones of Anglican, Orthodox or Gregorian chants.
So many styles are on offer, so why not sample them all? Song selection here continues to seek 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 old, something new, often borrowed, sometimes blue”.
Note: The alternate Lectionary reading is Psalm 89, discussed in a post for July 2015.