Recalling Steve Shoemaker’s post “A Song for Each Kind of Day” after returning to the habit of reading the Psalms each morning, I am stunned by the aptness of the Psalm for today.
The Psalms are existential in nature. They are profoundly personal, but they also address public life. They give voice to the heart’s desire in a given time and place — our thanksgivings, yearning, exultations, lamentations, and cries against injustice. Often they are the poet’s responses to public life in the light of faith.
THAT’S NOT NICE!
why do you boast of wickedness
against the godly all day long?
You plot ruin;
Your tongue is like a sharpened razor,
O worker of deception.
You love evil more than good
and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that hurt,
O you deceitful tongue.
Oh that God would demolish you utterly,
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
The righteous shall see and tremble,
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge,
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”
- Psalm 52:1-7 (Book of Common Prayer)
Psalm 52 isn’t nice. The psalmist knew nothing of Watergate or the Mueller investigation, or Donald J. Trump. Nor was he imbued with an ethic that told him not to judge, to be kind, to watch his tongue, to believe that all’s right with the world because God’s in His heaven or the claim everything happens for a reason.The psalmist is not a fatalist or a determinist. He holds sacred his personal responsibilty for public life. His life is not his own. He knows himself to be a member of a commonwealth. When the integrity of the commonwealth comes under threat, his heart must speak.
BREAKFAST WITH A PSALMIST
Former U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson is remembered for “the Saturday Night Massacre” when he resigned his office, refusing to obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.
Years later, Elliot Richardson came to Minneapolis as the featured speaker at the Westminster Town Hall Forum. As was the custom, he moderator and the guest speaker enjoyed conversation over breakfast the morning of the Forum. At his initiation, the convsersation turned to religion. He was writing a book, occasioned in part by the growing public agreement with John Lennon’s “Imagine There’s No Religion,” arguing that, if the slate of human history were wiped clean of religion, we would re-create it in a heartbeat because it’s in our nature. Searching Amazon’s listing of Richardson’s books, it appears it was never published. If we had the opportunity again all these years later, I would ask him if he had crawled inside Psalm 52 before he took the leap of faith that made him a hero of personal conscience and public intergrity.
ONLY A POEM (A PSALM)
Some things are matters of the heart. Some things in public life pierce the heart so deepLy; some sins against the commonwealth are so egregious; some wealth is so obscene; some abuses of power against the commonwealth so obvious, that only a poem (a psalm) says what we feel. There is a psalm for this kind of day.
- Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, Dec. 18, 2018