In my new sequence of poems written in response to The Psalms we have come to psalm 14, with its portrait of human folly and insolence and it famous opening line: THE fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. We can certainly recognise the characteristics of those who, whatever religiosity they profess with their mouths, have nothing of God on their hearts, and the psalmist’s portrait has been as telling in every previous generation as it is in ours:
Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues have they deceived: the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known ; there is no fear of God before their eyes.
The danger however, with psalms like this is that we use them to point the finger at others rather than to hold up as a mirror to ourselves. Sometimes it’s the contrasts in the sequencing of the psalms that brings us up short. Psalm 15 provides a contrasting portrait to the fool of psalm 14. It starts with the searching question: LORD, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle: or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? and then goes on to paint the portait of a righteous man, which is in direct, almost point by point contrast with the portrait of the fool:
He that leadeth an uncorrupt life: and doeth the thing which is right, and speaketh the truth from his heart. He that hath used no deceit in his tongue, nor done evil to his neighbour: and hath not slandered his neighbour. He that setteth not by himself, but is lowly in his own eyes: and maketh much of them that fear the Lord.
Of course if I try to hold this psalm up as a mirror, I see not my own face, but the face of my saviour. Only he can ascend that ‘holy hill’ and I will have to ascend with him or not at all. But, thanks be to God, he has come to have mercy on the fool as well as the wise man.
Because of all the ways these two psalms are contrasted and linked I am posting my two poems in response together so that they can be read in sequence. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poems.
When heaven’s hidden gates are drawn apart
And our captivity is ended, we’ll rejoice,
But now the fool’s in charge, and in his heart
He only echoes his own emptiness:
No god, no vestiges of reverence
Disturb his vanity. Just weariness
And mockery, just cruel insolence,
And greed that still consumes the poor like bread,
These only seem to move him. Violence
Is like a drug to him. He cocks his head
And speaks his poison words with hissing tongue
And yet we still believe him. Let him dread
The day that’s coming, it will not be long.
The poor have cried, and now they have been heard
The fool will fall before their joyful song.
The fool will fall before their joyful song
But maybe I will fall with him as well.
You know me Lord, you know how much I long
To rise with you, how much I long to dwell
Within your tabernacle, to ascend
The path that glimmers on your holy hill,
But you know too how much I just pretend
To virtues not my own, I am not fit
For that ascent. I fail unless you lend
Your strength and take my life and make of it
A new life altogether. Oh descend
Into my darkness, lift me from the pit
And set me on the way that you intend
How ever slow and spiralling the path
Then help me, step by step, my guide and friend.