Advent: A Reflection on Psalm 126

December 5, 2021

I am attracted to the psalms. Maybe this is because one way God called me to deepen my life of faith was through music. I recall a preaching course during graduate studies when the instructor was surprised (in a good way) that I chose the psalm as the focal point of my homily. Apparently that doesn’t happen very often, however, I love that the psalms offer us a very human way of praying as we attempt to make sense of life’s complexities through raw, honest dialogue with God. Anger, frustration, sorrow, and desire for vengeance are interwoven with expressions of delight, serenity, happiness, joy, and gratitude to our loving Creator who at times feels very close, and at other times seems very, very far away.

Psalm 126 was written for a people looking back on a time of exile exclaiming, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126:3). This year I find myself clinging to the refrain in anticipation of a promise yet to be fulfilled, more aligned with  Pamela Greenberg’s translation: “God will act with wonder toward us; the thought fills us with joy.”  

Psalm 126 (Greenberg trans.)

A SONG OF UPLIFT.

When the Redeemer returns the exiles to Zion

we will have been like dreamers.

Then our mouths will overflow with laughter,

our tongues with cries of joy.

Then it will be said among the nations:

“God has acted with grandeur

on behalf of these people.”

God will act with wonder toward us;

the thought fills us with joy.

The Holy One has glorified us by name—

we will be as though having been

in the divine presence throughout.

Return us, God, from our exile

like sudden streambeds in the Negev.

Those who plant seeds with tears of sorrow

will gather the harvest with songs of joy.

The one who walks even while weeping,

lifting the seed as he goes,

will return with gladness,

carrying his sheaves of corn.

Joy is feeling far away as I grieve my mother’s death. This past year, alternating between Chicago and the Western Slope of Colorado about every 4-6 weeks, I was repeatedly jolted as the end stages of Posterior Cortical Atrophy syndrome (a rare form of dementia) progressed.  While diagnosing PCA took a long time, her rapid decline was disorienting.

Cloudbursts of tears alternate with gales of laughter as we walk through her belongings and papers, lifting seeds of memories to plant in our hearts along the way.  Like the flicker of light that grows around the advent wreath this season, those seeds of love hint at a promised harvest of abundant joy to come, in this life and the next.

As we make our way toward the feast of the incarnation, whether this is a season of sorrow or celebration (or both), consider taking time in prayer to wonder about the ways you “have been in the divine presence throughout.” Allow the psalm from the daily readings to spark a memory, or identify strong emotions during an Examen to guide your reflection. Years ago I started jotting down psalm topics on a blank page at the front of a book of psalms to reference when I’m struggling to find my own words, similar to the index included at the back of many hymnals. You might also find writing your own psalm to be a fruitful way to voice your heartfelt response to Emmanuel, God-With-Us, always.

Go Deeper:

  • Using the prayer method of Lectio Divina, consider praying with this Psalm from the second Sunday of Advent, or any other readings from Sunday.
  • Pray an guided audio Lectio Divina of Psalm 126:1-6. 
  • Check out our other praying with scripture resources here
  • Consider exploring other translations and paraphrases of the Psalms:
    • Greenburg, Pamela; The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation, writes in her introduction:“The psalms have touched people because they reflect the lived experience of religion, not neat theological doctrine.  … Their diversity gives testimony to the life of a person reaching with full heart and intellect toward God, a person yearning for revelation amidst the spectrum of circumstances that life presents.  And within that search appears everything from jubilation to hopelessness to the various emotions in between.”
    • Merrill, Nan; Psalms for Praying:  An Invitation to Wholeness are beautifully rendered paraphrases of the psalms that continue to provide consolation and challenge in my prayer.
    • Peterson, Eugene; The Message;  In his commentary on the Book of Psalms, Peterson notes:“Most Christians for most of the Christian centuries have learned to pray by praying the Psalms.  The Hebrews, with several centuries of a head start on us in matters of prayer and worship, provided us with the prayer book that gives us a language adequate for responding to the God who speaks to us. … only as we develop raw honesty and detailed thoroughness in our praying do we become whole, truly human in Jesus Christ, who also prayed the Psalms.”
    • And if struggling with what to do with righteous anger at injustice in our world, consider the article, Bring Back the Imprecatory Psalms, Troutner, T., Church Life Journal, August 11, 2021)“Canonical scripture (and until the post-conciliar reforms, the Liturgy of the Hours) includes the desperate prayers known as “imprecatory psalms,” those cries to God for judgment against the wicked, who seem to earthly eyes to prosper free of consequences. … If we can no longer pray for the manifestation of God’s wrath and justice against evil, it is because we have lost the sense that divine judgment is good news. God does not leave us to face the mess we have made of the world; the Lord intervenes in history to frustrate the plans of the wicked and set right what we have made wrong. This judgment can be painful for us, since this evil is deeply entrenched within our hearts. But God’s judgment, as Origen believed, is always aimed at restoration.”

Photo by KaLisa Veer on unsplash.com 

 

Jenéne Francis is an aspiring contemplative in action who finds writing creative non-fiction and short fiction a fruitful spiritual practice. She also enjoys adapting and offering the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius for days of reflection and retreats. In her professional life, Jenéne serves as the Provincial’s Associate Pastoral Assistant for the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus supporting retreat houses, spirituality programs, parishes, hospital chaplains, and other Jesuits engaged in pastoral work. Having spent 17 years at the Procter and Gamble Company, followed by 20 years in ministry, Jenéne gets great satisfaction by offering her engineer’s head and poet’s heart for “the greater glory of God.”

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