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 The Psalmist Gets the Blues

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Join date : 2009-11-05

PostSubject: The Psalmist Gets the Blues   Mon Jun 21, 2010 1:20 pm

The Psalmist Gets the Blues

Excerpt from Psalm 42

"My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, 'Where is your God?'"

Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver

Not long ago I learned that someone in our congregation, a mild-mannered banker by day, is a blues guitarist by night. He teaches and plays in various settings, so I asked him if he would be willing to share his gift in worship. After all, blues and the biblical tradition of lament have much in common, which can be summarized:

There is something wrong here, things are not right.
I must give voice to my complaint.
I must sing.
Besides, the blues has deep spiritual roots. Mississippi John Hurt, when asked why all of his songs seem to be about women, whiskey and Jesus, replied: "Well, that about covers it, don't you think?"

So I asked my parishioner if he would be willing to set a biblical passage to music and Psalm 42, a psalm of lament, is what we chose.
After the psalm was read, his guitar screamed a bluesy intro, then another banker (what is it with bankers and the blues these days?) sang the words of the psalm:

My tears have been my food all day and all night.
My tears have been my food all day and all night.
While people say to me, "Where is your God?"
(In blues, you always have to sing the first line twice. I don't know why. You just do.)

Lament is not whining. Whiners always find a way to whine, regardless of circumstances. No, lament is a legitimate response to real hardship. Mahalia Jackson could have been referring to lament, rather than the blues, when she said, "Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit yelling for help."

In the Bible there are more prayers of lament than there are prayers of praise. That reminds me that God invites our expressions of sorrow and complaint as much as God invites our praise.


God, when I find myself in a deep pit, hear my cry for help. Amen.
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