Psalm 137: 1-4
1By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
2There on the poplars we hung our harps,
3for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
Psalm 137 has always brought me a unique sense of comfort and hope. It is a captivity psalm, a psalm rooted in despair, in longing, and in unfulfilled desires. The Israelites find themselves in captivity, and their captors are requiring them to sing the songs of Zion. They can't. How could they sing the songs of Zion, the songs of home, while in a foreign land? Instead, they weep, they hang their harps, and later in the psalm, they even express desire for vengeance against their captors.
The Israelites, the people who knew God and his promises, who knew they were his chosen people, who were led out of Egypt by Moses, found themselves sinking into despair while in captivity.
I can identify with the feeling of captivity and with the despair that accompanies it. Five years ago in September, at the height of the rainy season, we lost a dear friend, Rudy. He was a guajero working in the city garbage dump when the rains provoked a trash slide. Rudy was buried in the trash, and we were left devastated. We were lost in captivity to grief, devastated both because of the loss of a friend, and because of the systems that allowed for that tragic loss.
We found it difficult to sing songs of joy. For a while, we hung up our harps.
I found myself turning to this psalm for comfort and hope. At times it’s hard for humans to be honest and raw with their emotions, especially Christians. There is an internalized fear that if we express this level of grief, then people will question our trust in the Lord.
Yet this passage, along with passages like Ecclesiastes 3 (there is a time for everything), the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 (blessed are those who mourn), and John 11 (Jesus wept), affirms that there is a place for our complex range of emotions. In both the Old and New Testament, that place is at God’s feet.
Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.”
1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on the Lord for he cares for you.”
I find it both comforting and hopeful that God welcomes my grief, despair, and tears and that he cares for me and sustains me in them.
*All Biblical references are taken from the NIV.