Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Psalm 22: Some further verses

James Tissot (1836-1902).
My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Eli, Eli lama sabactani), 1886-1894.
Opaque watercolour over graphite on gray wove paper,
Image: 11 1/2 x 8 13/16 in. (29.2 x 22.4 cm).
Brooklyn Museum, New York

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 - 1847) composed the choral work Psalm 22 (Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen? / My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? ) in 1844 for the Cathedral Choir in Berlin.

Here is part of the rendition by Ensemble Vocal de La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale de Gand and directed by Philippe Herreweghe

Psalm 22 was the theme of Pope Benedict`s catechesis last Wednesday

Some verses of Psalm 22 - a Psalm of David concentrated on the first two verses of the Psalm and the Pope`s meditation on them

The Psalm still inspires composers. In 1987 the Canadian-Chinese composer, An-lun Huang composed A Cantata in Baroque Style: A Psalm of David - Psalm 22 for Pipe Organ and Mixed Voices Op. 43 (1987) (Text from the Holy Bible, King James Version)

Here is one of nine clips on Youtube of the work premiered in Moscow:

Here are the Pope`s final reflections on the remaining verses of the Psalm:

"In painful contrast, Psalm 22's initial cry of supplication is followed by the memory of the past:

"In thee our fathers trusted;
They trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
To thee they cried, and were saved;
In thee they trusted, and were not disappointed" (Verses 4-5).

The God who today appears so distant to the psalmist, is nevertheless the merciful Lord who Israel knew and experienced throughout her history. The man praying belongs to a people that was the object of God's love and that could witness to His fidelity to that love.

Beginning with the patriarchs, then in Egypt and in their long sojourn in the desert, in their stay in the Promised Land in contact with aggressive and hostile peoples, to the darkness of exile, the whole of biblical history was a story of the people crying out for help, and of God's saving responses.

And the psalmist here makes reference to the unwavering faith of his fathers, who "trusted" -- this word is repeated three times -- without ever being disappointed.

Now however, it appears that this chain of trustful invocation and divine response has been broken; the psalmist's situation appears to contradict the whole history of salvation, making the present reality all the more painful.

Barry Moser (b. 1940) with Bradley Hutchinson
They Laughed Me to Scorn Psalm 22:7 from The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible or the Moser Bible 1999
Print: Resingrave on Zerkall Bible paper
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John's University

"But God cannot contradict Himself, and so the prayer returns to describing the painful situation of the man praying, in order to persuade God to have mercy and to intervene, as He had always done in times past.

The psalmist calls himself "a worm and not a man; scorned by men, and despised by the people" (Verse 6); he is mocked and scoffed at (Verse 7) and wounded precisely for his faith:

"He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" (Verse 8),

they say.

Under the mocking blows of irony and contempt, it seems as though the persecuted one has lost all human semblance, like the suffering servant described in the Book of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 52:14; 53:2b-3).

And like the just one oppressed in the Book of Wisdom (cf. 2:12-20), like Jesus on Calvary (cf. Matthew 27:39-43), the psalmist sees his relationship with the Lord called into question, in the cruel and sarcastic emphasis on what is making him suffer: the silence of God, His apparent absence.

Barry Moser (b. 1940) with Bradley Hutchinson
The Child and the Asp Isaiah 11:8 (detail) from The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible or The Moser Bible
Print: Resingrave on Zerkall Bible paper
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John's University

"And yet, God was present in the life of the one praying with an undeniable closeness and tenderness. The psalmist reminds God of this:

"Yet thou art He who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breasts. Upon thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God" (Verses 9-10).

The Lord is the God of life who brings to birth and welcomes the newborn, caring for him with a father's love. And if he previously remembered God's fidelity throughout the course of his people's history, now the man praying calls to mind his own personal history and relationship with the Lord, tracing it back to the particularly significant moment of the beginning of his life.

And there, despite his current desolation, the psalmist recognizes a closeness and a divine love so radical that he can now exclaim, in a confession full of faith and hope:

"Since my mother bore me, thou hast been my God" (Verse 10b).

Barry Moser (b. 1940) with Bradley Hutchinson
Many Are the Afflictions Psalm 34:19 (detail)from The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible or The Moser Bible
Print: Resingrave on Zerkall Bible paper
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John's University

"The prayer of lament now becomes an anguished plea:

"Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help" (Verse 11).

The only closeness the psalmist perceives -- and which frightens him -- is that of his enemies. It is necessary, then, that God draw near and help, because the enemies of the man praying surround him, they encompass him like strong bulls that open wide their mouths to roar and tear him to pieces (cf. Verses 12-13).

Anguish changes the perception of the danger, magnifying it.

His adversaries seem invincible; they have become ferocious and dangerous animals, while the psalmist is like a little worm, powerless and utterly without defense.

But these images used by the psalmist also serve to illustrate [the truth] that when man becomes brutal and attacks his brother, something animal-like takes over in him, and he seems to lose every human semblance; violence always carries within itself something beastly, and only God's saving intervention can restore man to his humanity.

For the psalmist, who has become the object of such fierce aggression, there now seems to be no escape, and death begins to take hold of him:

"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint […] my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws […] they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots" (Verses 14-15; 18).

With dramatic images that we find again in the accounts of Christ's passion, the breaking of the body of the condemned is described, along with the unbearable burning thirst that torments the dying, and which is echoed in Jesus' request "I thirst" (cf. John 19:28), culminating finally in the definitive gesture of the torturers who, like the soldiers beneath the cross, divide the garments of the victim, who is looked upon as already dead (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24).

Then once again, we hear an urgent cry for help:

"But thou, O Lord, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid […] Save me" (Verses 19, 21a).

This is a cry that opens the heavens, because it proclaims a faith and a certainty that surpasses every doubt, every darkness and every experience of desolation.

Barry Moser (b. 1940) with Bradley Hutchinson
To Him Who Alone Doeth Great Wonders Psalm 136: 3-4 (detail) from The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible or The Moser Bible
Print: Resingrave on Zerkall Bible paper
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John's University

"And the lamentation is transformed; it gives way to praise in the welcoming of salvation:

"You have answered me. I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee" (Verses 21c-22).

Thus, the psalm breaks forth into thanksgiving, into the great final hymn that involves the whole people, the Lord's faithful, the liturgical assembly, the future generations (cf. Verses 23-21).

The Lord has come to his help. He has saved the poor one and has shown him His merciful Face.

Death and life have met in an inseparable mystery, and life has triumphed. The God of salvation has shown Himself to be the uncontested Lord, whom all the ends of the earth will celebrate, and before whom all the families of peoples will bow down in worship.

It is the victory of faith, which is able to transform death into a gift of life -- the abyss of suffering into a source of hope.

Beloved brothers and sisters, this psalm has taken us to Golgotha, to the foot of Jesus' cross, in order to relive His passion and to share the fruitful joy of the resurrection.

Let us allow ourselves to be flooded by the light of the paschal mystery, even in [times] of God's seeming absence, even in God's silence, and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, let us learn to discern the true reality that surpasses all appearances, by recognizing the path of exaltation precisely in humiliation and the full revelation of life in death, in the cross.

By thus placing all of our trust and hope in God the Father, in every anxiety we too will be able to pray to Him in faith, and our cry for help will be transformed into a hymn of praise."