Psalm 74 is, amongst other things a lament and outcry against wanton vandalism, the spirit of mere mindless destruction:
Thine adversaries roar in the midst of thy congregations: and set up their banners for tokens.
He that hewed timber afore out of the thick trees: was known to bring it to an excellent work.
But now they break down all the carved work thereof: with axes and hammers.
They have set fire upon thy holy places: and have defiled the dwelling-place of thy Name, even unto the ground.
Yea, they said in their hearts, Let us make havock of them altogether: thus have they burnt up all the houses of God in the land.
The occasion of the psalm is the desecration of holy places in Israel, but we have all seen episodes in history and in our own time of similar outbreaks. (I should say that I wrote this months before the terrible events of January 6th in Washington, but since then it has, perhaps, taken on an extra layer of meaning)
The original psalm though, also points beyond the symptoms to the cause:
We see not our tokens, there is not one prophet more: no, not one is there among us, that understandeth any more.
In my response to this psalm I turned my attention more to the intellectual and cultural vandalism that arises out of the poisonous combination of arrogance and ignorance, out of a failure of vision, rather than to the physical vandalism that takes a hatchet to the carved work in choir and sanctuary, though sometimes these things are not unrelated
As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title.
When we awake in you all will be well,
But now we feel your absence and we cry
‘How long will the destroyers work their will?
The random vandals who don’t even try
To understand the good things they deface.
They trash the past, and cast a jaundiced eye
On all the works of beauty, art and grace
That once made up our culture. In their pride
They ruin things that no-one can replace
As, making havoc of their lives, they slide
Back into chaos. Rouse us up O lord
Who rode upon the seraphim. Divide
Once more the waters, draw the flaming sword,
Bring order out of chaos, as you did
When darkness fled before your holy Word.
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