We come now to psalm 88, the lowest point of lament and despair in the entire psalter, the only psalm which does not have a ‘yet’ or a ‘nevertheless’ to redeem its pain, but, considered as a psalm in itself, ends in the same agony and loneliness with which it began:
My lovers and friends hast thou put away from me: and hid mine acquaintance out of my sight.
That is the end of the psalm, but it is not the end of the psalter, the book of praises. In fact, as Paula Gooder points out in the Introduction to David’s Crown, it is, in terms of the number of verses in total, the exact mid-point of the psalter, it is the middle, and not the end of the story. This is vital for us to remember: both that we can freely tell God our worst fears and feelings, as the psalmist does here, and also that we can know that those fears and doubts are not the end of our story, any more than they are the close of the psalter, for the psalter re-ascends from this darkness and closes with praise. It is this, which enabled me, in my response to psalm 88 to trust God with the uncensored bleakness of my own personal experience of darkness and depression.
And for that reason also, I have decided not to post this psalm alone but to pair it with psalm 89, indeed my poems for 88 & 89 are on facing pages in the middle of David’s Crown so that they can be read together. and the opening verse of psalm 89 is:
- MY SONG shall be alway of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be shewing thy truth from one generation to another.
In my answering poem our agony, expressed in the poem on 88, is met by the agony of Christ who comes, in his compassion, to share our desolation with us, that he might redeem and heal it. and that is why these poems should be read as a pair.
As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.
My saviour’s words of welcome ‘all is well’!
Was that just some false dream I used to have?
I tremble once more on the brink of hell,
Soon I’ll be weeping in its lowest pit. The grave
Would be a kinder place than this. The dead
Forget, but I remember and I grieve
For all that I have lost: the green leaves shed
And stripped from me, my lovers and my friends
All torn away. Just emptiness and dread
Are my companions now. No one defends
Or speaks for me. Lord I have cried to you
And you say nothing. Empty silence rends
My heart in pieces. There is no one who
Can find me now, for who could ever know
This agony unless they felt it too?
Who knows this agony unless they feel it too?
You answer me in darkness from your cross,
It is your pain that draws my heart to you
As deep calls unto deep and loss to loss.
Your covenant was sealed in your heart’s blood
When it is pierced with mine. And our cries cross
In flesh and blood as I encounter God,
Not on the heights, but in the pit of hell.
Then I can sing the triumph of the good
Then I can truly know all will be well.
I recognise my saviour’s mighty arm
Because it has been pierced. The bloody nail
Means more to me than those who see no harm
And keep God as a talisman, a spell
A cosy comforter, a lucky charm.
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