“Hope in a Desert Place” (Part 2) – “Longings” by the Very Revd David Monteith, Dean of Leicester
Psalm 42 has been a vital companion whether as the song ‘As the deer’ by Martin Nystrom or at Cathedral Evensong with Herbert Howell’s anthem ‘As the hart’. The worship song taps into our emotional need for connection. The sultry harmonies of choral writing place us resolutely in the territory of yearning – for the fullness of God.
Psalms have origins but mostly these remain hidden. However, this seems to voice the experience of a downcast person, remembering their time in Jerusalem caught up in a religious festival. This memory reconnects them with others and with hope. Yet the writer is conscious of the gap between this memory and their now isolated life and downcast spirit. The chaos and thundering of a full river symbolises the overwhelming disquiet of the heart.
I’ve visited a site in upper Israel which possibly could have been this place. Under the shadow of Mount Hermon sources of the Jordan bubble up augmented by melting mountain snow. I sat in the sunshine imagining the writer whilst watching salmon jump the water cataracts.
It was astonishingly beautiful. Why was this not enough?
This place has stayed with me. The experience of being in such a place full of glory yet to feel isolated and separated from the community of faith in festive mode is familiar.
It echoes the experience of many LGBT+ Christians who may be thankful and aware of God’s ‘steadfast love’ (v8). Yet we find ourselves praying ‘why are you cast down, O my soul’ (v11). There is a yearning for fullness of life whilst an array of issues and attitudes separate us from ‘the multitude keeping festival’ (v4).
With the writer we are invited to see the beauty we know, to recognise our alienation, and to speak of our longings for the fullness of God’s life.
Then through grace disquiet shifts to hope.
Gracious God, the hope of our longings, come close to us as we honestly voice our pain, and restore us to fullness of life amidst your people, for Christ’s sake.
Tomorrow – Elaine Sommers, “Flying High”, Isaiah 40: 31