‘Your way O God is holy. You work wonders.’ (13, 14)
Solstice in the south
This psalm appears but once in the Lectionary cycle, in Year C, and then mid-year. It therefore often comes along at or near the solstice, in the northern summer and souther winter. In the south, during a frosty winter, common Psalter themes of approaching relief after stress, peace after conflict, safety after danger are quite appropriate:
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. / I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old / I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds. (vs 10 – 12)
There is, in fact, quite a deal of ‘pondering’ going on in the psalm — verses 3, 5, 6, 12 for example — suitable for the long dark watches at the winter nadir, or indeed the hot afternoons of the summer zenith.
In reality, however, these songs scarce concern themselves with astronomical markers. Their focus is on people and on their relationship with a divine creative spirit whose just and loving nature is not seasonal, the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb.13:8)
For the Solstice refrain the psalm was 86, with a tune that dips to a slow low then rises to greet the spring:
However, a rework for Ps 77 is easy enough. Refitting with a selective paraphrase of the verses quoted above, it goes:
Many psalm singers are, in fact, in the northern hemisphere, where it’s summertime and, for the most part, the livin’ is easy.
In many of the lively evening streets in Berlin at summertime a festive air is quite palpably abroad. The Fête de la Musique (not sure why the title is in French) is held on the same date each year to coincide with the summer solstice. Crowds are out late to celebrate. The recognition is not religious but clearly follows an ancient spiritual awareness in the community of our being connected to the life cycles of creation.
The Turkish markets are bustling. Musicians play in the streets. A group of spirited young women sing on the banks of the canal, accompanied by clapping and listeners joining in familiar folk tunes. Young people in baggy tie-dye and dreads sit chatting, drinking and listening to the music and the song of the solstice spirit.
The concave tune shown above does not follow the sun’s trajectory so well in this northern context, not that such shape matters a jot. The Psalm 86 refrain from NCH (by Judy Hunnicutt, 1994) goes nicely up and down. It swings along nicely and the message is apposite. QED.
Our most recent recording for online worship included both tunes.
And behind it all is the symmetry of human experience in north and south, east and west, as cycles repeat, generations follow. The creative spirit is pervasive, equitable and infectious.