Even When It Hurts: February 22, 2021

Even When It Hurts -- Lent 2021 Devotional Book

Read: Psalm 137

For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
-Psalm 137:3

As I read the first part of this psalm, I was reminded of an episode of the NPR show “On Being with Krista Tippett” where she was interviewing Joe Carter, who spent years educating people worldwide about the meaning of African-American spirituals:

And sometimes I imagine how some of those songs were used and I imagine someone on the plantation, the master, who is always very happy when he hears the slaves singing because he knows where they are, he knows they’re not escaping, as long as he can hear them. An old master comes out one day. He says, “Hey, Joe. Big Joe. I don’t hear nobody singing down there. You guys strike me up one of them good, old spiritual songs. You know how I like them. Give me one of them good, old songs.” And often when I go to the schoolchildren, I have them sing with me. I say, “OK. Now pretend you’re going to be — you’re all slaves, OK? And master wants us to sing a song, but we don’t really want to sing for master, do we?” “No. No, we don’t.” I say, “Well, I’ll tell you something. Master loves our singing, but he doesn’t listen to the words we say. He doesn’t have a clue. So we can say anything we want. So, let’s give the master a good old song.” (Joe Carter, “The Spirituals”, May 9, 2003)

There is a very strong parallel between slaves in the antebellum South and the Israelites. Both were taken from their native lands to a foreign one, both were forced to work in inhumane conditions, and both were mocked and told to be cheerful even when they were living a miserable life. Is it any wonder that the slaves created spirituals out of Old Testament stories?

This is an “imprecatory” psalm, meaning that it calls out God to judge the psalmist’s enemies, which is why it ends with the words “O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (vv. 8-9) One could say that this anger is overkill, but we have to remember that it comes from a place of great pain. The anger that got BLM started is similar. It moves people to act, and if tempered, it is useful. God works in our anger, and sometimes the pain behind that anger is how God gets our attention.

Lord, be present with us in our hardships and give us your aid in tempering our anger at injustice that we might use it for better things. Amen.
-Jen McCabe