Psalm 42- Where is Now Thy God?

St Nectan's Church

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee O God.

Thank god for England, and for English country churches. For their jolly vicars, the kindly church wardens and those who “do” the flowers and dust the flagstone floors.

For the organists and choirs and the village ladies in their funny hats and sensible shoes. England, this England.

We shall miss it when it has gone, all this. When our heritage has been stolen by the greedy developers and our churches have been converted to flats, or worse, bingo halls.

Get there while you still can. While the barbarians yet beat at our doors, held off but by the thinnest of lines; go and sit in a quiet shrine and contemplate the infinite. Or, if you prefer, the cosmos and our place in it. Or any manner of things. But go while it lasts and pick up a book of Psalms.

Better still, read it out loud while there is nobody about on a blustery May day and see how our ancestors lamented, wailed and gnashed their teeth in oh, so modern a fashion.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?

Like all the Psalms of David, this quiet and beautiful piece of poetry has been recited in synagogue and church for thousands of years. It has been chanted in plainsong, it has been sung in magnificent polyphony. It has been accompanied by the organ and the orchestra. It has been set to music by Felix Mendelssohn and many others.

Wie der Hirsch schreit….Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele?

How modern is the writer’s lament. Help me, do not desert me in my hour of need. Why is my heart so heavy, my soul so burdened. Who was he this poet? Where was he?

A Jew in a foreign land it is said, unable to worship his god in the temple in Jerusalem. Exiled perhaps. Wandering aimlessly in sadness, a captive or slave longing for his freedom and his home. By the rivers of Babylon.

Am I a closet believer a friend asked me today? No I don’t think so. I just appreciate sentiment, beauty wherever it is to be found. And performance, yes that too. To speak these verses as they were meant, to bring out their meaning. To sing the psalm to the glorious setting by Mendelssohn.

And yet some part of me shares those sentiments. Those longings.

Where is Now Thy God?

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