These are words of utter desolation – whose body is turning to skin and bones, whose life is wasting away like smoke fading in the cool of the morning soon to be no more. They feel desolate and alone, like some lone animal baking in the heat of the desert far from any water.
As I read these words, I notice I am tempted to take the metaphorically, to assume the one praying is simply using hyperbole to express such soul pain. Noticing my preference, I am convicted. Convicted of my own unwillingness to see the world through the eyes of those for whom much of this prayer could easily be literal. It is so easy sipping my coffee on my porch in a southern college town, well fed and hearing the call of the morning birds in the trees, to forget there are those right in this moment who are wasting away with no food and no clean water It is easy to forget those facing famine and disease, wasting from curable diseases due to lack of access to medical care. It is easy for me to want these words not to reflect the costs of exile or tyranny, of war ravaging the land and the people, of disease and loss. It is easy to not want in my morning meditations to reflect on the reality that others are not as comfortable as me, living in lands ravaged by pollution to serve the comforts of we first world middle class folk.
This is a part of the miracle of Scripture. When we meditate on it in an open way, we open ourselves up to the experiences of other people of God throughout time and space. It is like a Tardis we enter into, which every Doctor Who fan knows, ushers you into other times and places, because its words reflect the experiences of God by people in all kinds of situations.
Though I don’t know if these words are figurative in their description of wasting away or literal, I do know that was the literal experience of many of God’s people in Bible times during famine, war, exile, or tyranny. The book of Lamentations describes famine so fierce during the time of the siege of Jerusalem that otherwise kind-hearted people were tempted toward cannibalism of their own children the pain of hunger and thirst was so bad.
So Scripture invites me to see the world through these other eyes, to see my problems in comparison to these great challenges. And the Holy Spirit who unites all people of faith and good will in what Christians call the great communion of the saints invites me to realize that such sore trial is being faced now in this moment by other people of faith and good will just like me. Right now there are those who are my brothers and sisters wasting away due to not enough food or clean water from famine, from pollution, from tyranny, from the results of war. And they are a part of me, I of them, if we form one mystical body in Christ.
This awareness rising in me does not tell me specifically what to do, but it does open my eyes to the world in a new way.
As the psalm continues, the poet speaks for God promising God would remember and act upon the prayers of these people. This is, I think, a promise to all crying out. Yet it is a challenge for folks like me who are comfortable and, without the Spirit’s prodding of our hearts, un-noticing. For as Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries, Raleigh, writes, ““How could God allow such a thing? I no longer ask that, because I believe God has a plan … God’s plan is us. Those of us who live in the US live in a nation that throws away 40% of all the food we purchase, yet on the remaining 60% of the food, one in three of us manages to become obese. So let’s not say there is not enough food. Despite the abundance of food, some 17 million children in our own country go to bed hungry at night. Know why? Because none of those children know you. Because if you knew that Darius, who is 7 and lives at 1410 Elm Avenue, Apt #4, was hungry, you would get that kid some food. But you don’t know Darius- so he goes hungry.”
The call I sense this morning is to become more aware not just of the problems this psalm points to, but of the people facing them. I feel a call to raise my awareness and sense of connection to them, as well as to begin to ask “How can I be a part of God through me and others answering their prayers?”
In what have you discovered this call? In what ways are you answering it?