After an extended period of dismay and bewilderment, Psalm 39 opened a vein to write again.
A Psalmic Meditation of a Hermit Crab
I said, “I will be careful how I act
and will not sin by what I say.
I have been careful. A hermit crab at low tide, I sidle into a borrowed shell, not too big and not too small, to hide from birds of prey. I stuff myself inside. When the tide comes in, I may leave this shell. But not now. The sand is hot. The gulls are feeding.
I will be careful what I say
around wicked people.”
It’s not just the birds of prey that keep me here. Whatever I say outside will make it hotter for crabs like me. I’m crabby and cranky. “Keep your words to yourself! The world doesn’t need more heat. We all need to cool down.”
So I kept very quiet.
I didn’t even say anything good,
but I became even more upset.
Despair is a horrible thing. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it. Stay in your room until you have something nice to say. You have to be positive.” I have nothing good to say. Nothing calm. Nothing of value. Nothing to cool the beach at noon. Nothing to lower the blistering heat rising in me.
I became very angry inside,
and as I thought about it, my anger burned.
Glass shattering, Stop the Steal, Hang Mike Pence, Execute Nancy, Make America Great Again, sounds of threats and violence, cries for help, and the silence from the White House still hurt my ears.
Then I remember how Jeremiah wept. Truth, he said, was dark and deep, and bought a worthless plot of land where hope could live.
The prophet Jeremiah, Michelangelo fresco, Sistine Chapel
So I spoke:
“Lord, tell me when the end will come
and how long I will live.
Let me know how long I have.
You have given me only a short life;
my lifetime is as nothing in your sight;
Even those who stand erect are but a puff of wind.
It’s hard alone outside the shell. The wind is stiff. The sky is dark. Light is White and right; Black is dark and wronged again. Truth sways by a noose from the lynching tree.
When will this end? When will it stop? How will it stop? I’m an old man; my time is short, this short puff of air, soon to disappear.
People are like shadows moving about.
All their work is for nothing;
they collect things but don’t know who will get them.
My kind and I are like ghosts sidling along the wall of shadows we faintly see in Plato’s cave. We find no respite from the heat and clamor into which we once could crawl — or thought we could. We leave behind a scorched gift to generations yet to come.
“So, Lord, what hope do I have?
You are my hope.”
Sea levels have rise, the tides are higher, the forests burning, the rivers drying, fields once lush and green now parched and brown, the planet spinning out of control, like a top our hands have spun. These mortal selves, this factory of gods our hearts conceive, cannot hide from Thee, O Lord, the “I AM” without end, the Breath of Life that breathes a breath through me.
Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), host of Views from the Edge: To see More Clearly, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 23, 2023.
An astonishing piece of prose poetry to which we can all relate as we search for truth and its shelter. Thank you.
I take comfort knowing there is a host of people who share the feelings of this piece, if not the biblical moorings which inspired it. Hermit crabs don’t need a belief system to “get it.” Thanks for the encouragement to keep on keeping on.