Psalm 13. How long?

How long will I not see your face? 
Will I be forgotten for ever?

How long must I live alone with with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? 

How long will my enemy triumph over me? 
Look at me and give me a response.

Let the light of hope be in my eyes; 
or despair will overtake me.

The enemy will claim the victory. 
No one will miss me when I am gone. 

But I trust in unfailing love; 
my heart rejoices within the caring community.

I will sing the praise, 
of all who are  good and faithful.

(A free interpretation)

One of the features of the Psalms is that they can become relevant in many different times and places; in all sorts of circumstances they can speak to our condition. In this psalm as in others the traditional style of parallelism is marked. The pairs of lines repeat one idea in two slightly different ways. This reinforces the message – the question of why we struggle. But by the end, as in so many psalms, there comes a turning point of trust, hope and love.

In the middle of a global pandemic the question, “How long?”  feels terribly pertinent, especially to the over seventies in the world’s population. Knowing that we are at risk of a potentially fatal infection and being encouraged to remain in isolation makes it feel like there is an enemy out there determined to get us. 

We can feel alone and rejected. The prospect of a prolonged incarceration can look like a prison sentence. There may appear to be no end in sight to fear and worry. It can seem like the odds are against us. In fact everything seems to be against us. In these circumstances it is natural to cry out for help, to extend a plea for someone to hear and protect us; for someone to understand and offer a way forward. 

Then there is  a rediscovery of hope. From somewhere comes a determination to go on. Perhaps we remember previous trials that have been overcome; or help that came when we needed it, unlooked for assistance. Just now I have received an email from a young mum offering to run errands for the older members of the meeting, someone to talk to open the telephone, a friend indeed.

Of course there are other global threats which are also urgent and frighteningly challenging. The Climate Crisis is still with us even if other news has pushed it off the front pages. It too appears to be a overwhelmingly powerful enemy. It provokes fear for the future and a sense of loss of many precious things. How long will the effects of global warming last? What will be the social, economic and political effects of the oceans rising and extreme weather events?

Can we find hope here as well? Will the global human response be to work together or make everyone seek their own safety? In fact are the two crises linked by the way we respond to them? Will selfishness win or community care be our salvation?

We can hold on to the love we know exists between people. We can show to others the kindness that we have been shown in the past. We can pass on the favours that we have been given to enable others to find peace. Do we trust in the heart of the universe; do we believe that love is the heart and soul of everything that is? That is the message of this psalm?

Terry Oakley