Psalm 137: Happy the one who takes your little ones, and dashes them against the rock.

Someone in Canterbury Cathedral (the Dean perhaps?) decided that Verse 9 was going a little far and that Jihad against the Daughters of Babylon and their kids just wasn’t on these days.

Pity someone couldn’t have communicated the Dean’s sentiments to Bush and Blair.

They could have explained perhaps that the “axis of evil” consisting of Iran, North Korea, and Iraq should not have included, to be fair, the countless thousands of innocent men, women and children killed in two gulf wars and the disastrous aftermath.

One of the glories of England is its Cathedrals. I was sitting in the choir stalls at evensong listening to the choir singing Psalm 137 and following along in the prayer book. Somewhat to my surprise I noticed a verse had been left out and when I glanced at Verse 9, I realised the omission was justified!

The dear old church of England is a decent place on the whole (although I gather life in the Cathedral close can be as bitchy as anywhere).  It isn’t blood and guts and Jihad. It is not about thrusting the violent and mad ramblings of an ancient desert tribe down the throats of the infidel.

Although the endless god stuff can get tedious (we are all so sinful) and mealy mouthed, they are a well meaning bunch mostly (leaving aside the occasional  Obadiah Slope).

That’s the thing about the religion of my childhood. They don’t mind me being an apostate,  they are not too concerned that I find their belief in a benign deity (or indeed any deity) faintly absurd.

They welcome me in with open arms, hoping perhaps that I will receive a Damascene conversion while dozing gently and drifting off to the notes of Tallis, Byrd or Purcell.

That’s what I like about the shabby old clerics and their musty churches and prayer books. They recognise that for some of us it is beauty and meditation which might lead us to a better life (even if, as an atheist, I can not hope for the kingdom of their god).

Thank god (well – that’s a turn of phrase) for the decency, mediocrity and kindness of their ways.


Psalm 137
From the Psalter of the  Book of Common Prayer

1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
2 As for our lyres, we hung them up
on the willows that grow in that land.
3 For there our captors asked for a song,
our tormentors called for mirth:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I set not Jerusalem above my highest joy.
7 Remember, O Lord, against the people of Edom
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, ‘Down with it, down with it,
even to the ground.’
8 O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy the one who repays you
for all you have done to us;
9 Who takes your little ones,
and dashes them against the rock.

By the rivers of Babylon, painting by Gebhard Fugel, c. 1920
By the rivers of Babylon, painting by Gebhard Fugel, c. 1920

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