This cry is the cry of every person in exile. How can we sing the songs of praise we sang in the place of comfort and certainty in the land of doubt, where we feel cut off from all that matters? Quite literally Israel endured this experience, as did people of African descent in the early Americas, Native Americans in the Trail of Tears.
As I hear these words today I feel called to recognize my own ancestors’ complicity in these tragedies. To remember the folks pushing for the exile and oppression of people of African descent and Native Americans considered themselves good people, probably went to church believing they were good Christians, yet failed to see the humanity of others. I feel a need to cry out to God calling for healing from the damage they did, which cannot be undone. It is a reminder of the work I am called to do as a southern white man to heal the legacy of racism that still lingers here in my home, and also to help transform the ongoing legacy of racism in the systems of power I am a part. For this same cry reminds me of the cries “Don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” which were a way my neighbors of color acknowledged that in many ways they are still made to feel as if in exile, as if they don’t belong, as if oppressed here alongside me. I hear a call to join against racism.
I also hear an acknowledgement that God is present with those experiencing the moment in which they feel they cannot praise or sing the songs of their experience of home due to feeling exiled. God is in that feeling of discontent and how it is expressed whether in silence before God, in questioning and doubting, or in creating new songs for the new experience – all of which this psalm represents. I can know that God is present with those facing oppression because as a Christian I believe each psalm was given inspired by the Holy Spirit, so their presence in the Scripture shows God’s presence with the author of the psalm as they were written. God is with you, if you face oppression, if you do not know how to sing, pray, praise. If the old songs and prayers are not sufficient and you feel you must sit in silence or find a new path of prayer or praise you have not journeyed before. Do not give up.
Finally, I also think that beyond the literal experience of oppression, this psalm speaks volumes to those feeling exiled by life. In times of grief, in times of loss, of depression, of trauma, we find our mouths stopped. We find it hard, even surrounded by what once felt home, to be at home in our lives. It is hard to pray, hard to praise, hard to relate to God as we always have, let alone others. This psalm reminds us that in those moments, God is present with us in our doubts, our questionings, our silence, and our struggle to find words. Whether or not we yet have found words or not, we can know God sits with us, even if we sit in the ash-heap like Job. God’s arms is about us. And God weeps along with us, whispering words of comfort. Know, friend, if you face such days, you are not alone.