Some years ago, I went through a long stretch where the night was not my friend. I could fall asleep just fine, but then I would awake after a few hours, not rested, but not going back to sleep, either. One night I remembered a particular psalm, a long-time favorite, Psalm 42. I won’t include the whole psalm — the verses I remembered were these:
7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. 8By day the LORD directs his love, at night [God’s] song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life.
(Please forgive the masculine pronouns; I’ll keep looking for balance.) That night, I pulled out my Bible and read that psalm through, several times.
There is striking imagery throughout this psalm of rushing waters and the sensation of overwhelm … for a newly single mom in a Ph.D. program, I was familiar with the feeling of waves and breakers sweeping over me. To think of God’s love directing my days, and her songs of strength in my heart at night … that was comforting.
Although I did not fall back asleep immediately, I did feel not so alone, and I could be still and rest. The next day, I got curious, and went to an online Bible to search the Psalms for references to the night. I found several, and copied them into a one-page document I could print out and keep in my bedside Bible. These became my solace on nights when sleep wouldn’t stay.
These psalms are solace now, too, when cataclysms large and small are all around; Haiti and Chile reel from a roiling earth, tsunamis roll, our economy is staggering to its feet but seemingly without lifting many of us with it. And on the most personal scale, even as I am seeing and feeling everything through the lens of my mother’s waning days, I am shocked afresh to hear of friends’ sudden health crises, and drawn into prayer again, hoping the waves and breakers of sudden illness do not bring down my beloved friends.
And so it seems right on time that I have been reminded of these Psalms this week: one of Sunday’s texts is Psalm 63, which I immediately recognized as one of my night-time companions. This is beautiful poetry; take turns reading verses with someone you love, and you will see.
Psalm 63 1-8
1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 3Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. 5My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. 7Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. 8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Those of you who read “Jesus .. Mother Hen?” will feel the resonance of verse 7: “I sing in the shadow of your wings.” If I were musical, I would make a song of this text; doesn’t this want to be a hymn to a mothering, nurturing, oceanic God? This psalmist has swum in God’s love and comfort, knows the feel of living water laving her skin, and longs to feel awash in love again so completely.
Psalm 30 is another night-time psalm, a song of the transience of grief and absence:
1 I will exalt you, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. 2O LORD my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. 4Sing to the LORD, you saints of God; praise [God’s] holy name. 5For [God’s] anger lasts only a moment, but [God’s] favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. 6When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
There were nights of tears I only got through because of the promise in this psalm: weeping may last the night, but joy comes in the morning! Hold out … hold on … if you can make it to first light, the spell of grief will be undone. In praying this psalm now, I call now for God’s help and healing for those I love ….
The last line, verse 6, reminds me of the Bonnie Raitt song, “I will not be broken.” I can hear her anthemic call, and the strong guitar riff wrapping around it … the defiant health of that song exactly matches the feel of versus 5 and 6, for me.
I’ll include a longer selection from Psalm 77; this psalmist thinks God is having more than a little to do with her sleeplessness.
1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.
3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah
4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; 6I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: 7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will [God] never show favor again? 8Has [God’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has [God’s] promise failed for all time? 9Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has [God] in anger withheld compassion?” Selah
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. 13Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? 14You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.
There have been times my prayers felt like the experience of verse 2: like I was reaching out and getting nowhere and nothing. Remembering more fruitful times of prayer was hardly helpful; I could only wonder what I was doing wrong. I think someone smarter than me once said that sometimes remembering you once had faith – and believing you will again have faith – is faith enough, when that’s all there is. This psalmist is being very deliberate in casting her thoughts on God, over and over, turning from doubt and despair to look for God’s tracks among her friends, knowing that the spirit is bending near, even though she cannot feel God’s presence in this moment.
This psalm now reminds me of my mother; in her dying days, she is restless, reaching out for no-one-knows-what (or who). She groans more than she speaks. Perhaps she is musing; perhaps her spirit is growing faint. My prayer for her – and for us all – is that she can hear the songs in the night, the songs God sings when she misses us, lullabies for her scattered children.
Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning. May her morning come soon, O Lord. May the Morning Light come for us all.