instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My soul is waiting for the Lord

As you may know, the De Profundis -- Psalm 130, or Psalm 129, depending on who's counting -- is traditionally prayed on behalf of the souls in purgatory. It is also the Responsorial Psalm for the Year A Scrutinies on the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

It's a good psalm to memorize; it's short, and it can come in handy. Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, for example, would stop to pray it when he would come across a cemetery on his ramblings with his friends.

Here is the Grail Psalter's translation of vv 5-7a:
My soul is waiting for the Lord.
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
(Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.)
I like the image of the psalmist and the watchman engaged in competitive longing. For the watchman, daybreak means rest and safety, and the successful discharge of his own duties. For the psalmist, the Lord means the redemption of "Israel... from all its iniquity" (v. 8).

The certainty of the Lord's redemption of Israel is compared to the certainty of the sun rising. This isn't a remote thought from ancient Semitic culture; we are sure as the sun's gonna rise about things today.

A wisenheimer might point out that, in not too many billion years, the sun will burn out, and any poor slob left on earth counting on that daybreak will be out of luck. But even if we limit ourselves to the next billion years, during which it is morally and scientifically certain that every night will be followed by daybreak, we have no such certainty that any particular watchman will live to see any particular daybreak. An army camp watchman may be the first casualty of a pre-dawn attack; even a purely ceremonial watchman might come to the end of his natural life before the end of his watch.

So we might think of daybreak as analogous to the certainty of God keeping His word, in fact on both the objective and subjective level the coming of daybreak is a weak and doubtful expectation compared to the certainty of hope in the Lord.