This is one of the darker psalms, and the psalmist seems at once fearful of God and forgetful of his mercy, so it opens:
- O LORD, rebuke me not in thine indignation: neither chasten me in thy displeasure.
- Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak: O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed
But the psalmist works through these fears and misgivings and is able to say just before the end of the psalm:
The Lord hath heard my petition: the Lord will receive my prayer.
It is this honesty about difficulty, fear and misgiving which makes the psalter so compelling and gives its moments of joy and recovery their full force and authority. In my own response to this psalm I picked up a phrase from verse 5 that ‘in death no man remembreth thee’ and used it to explore the kind of forgetfulness and amnesia that sometimes darkens our spiritual life. One function both of scripture and of poetry is to re-awaken our good memories of God. You may like to look at the psalm alongside the poem. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
Whose mercy wakes me at the break of day?
I feel my weakness, all my bones are vexed
And all the faith in me seems worn away
As though I’ve lost Love’s memory. Perplexed
By false complexities, I mime faith’s part
I keep the book but cannot read the text
Unless you come, and write it in my heart,
Unless you help me read it through my tears
And hear me out, and, hearing, heal my hurt.
How could I think you punished me? My fears
Just magnified the shadows that I cast
Till you were lost in shadow too. Love hears
My cries and clears the shadows of my past
Flinging them back before his growing light
Until I recognise his face at last.