|Psalm 137:1-6 Super flumina|
1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up *
on the trees in the midst of that land.
3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth: *
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion."
4 How shall we sing the LORD'S song *
upon an alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, *
let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you, *
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
The psalmist's lament from the shores of Babylon - far from the homeland of Jerusalem and the mountain of Zion, is a lament that resonates through the centuries. For people displaced by war, slavery, oppression, famine, and natural disaster, they may sing a song of lament for the land (and the life) left behind. For the exiles in Babylon, the city of Jerusalem was not only their homeland, and their lament was not solely homesickness. For the exiles in Babylon, the city of Jerusalem was the place where God resided on earth, where a bit of the sphere of God's universe overlapped with the universe of this world. So, to be exiled from Jerusalem was to be thrown out into a physical and spiritual desert where they had to find a new way to worship God.
The lament of the psalmist is one of the forms of this worship. At times, when we don't know how we can pray, when we are in turmoil and don't even know where to begin, THAT is the prayer we might offer. In our post-modern world of rapid change we may long for that place in our past where there was some peace. This is a wonderful place to begin our prayers. The exiles in Babylon began with their lament, and then had to find new ways to worship God, new ways to learn the teachings without access to the Temple. The lament of the psalmist is also our prayer, perhaps longing for the past, perhaps longing for a place where we experienced the Holy, perhaps also longing for that Jerusalem that is the City of God, the Jerusalem that will be where we all will reside, and will no longer need to sing songs of lament.
Much can be said, and much has been said, about Jerusalem here on earth, and also the Jerusalem above. From Paul in Galatians to Augustine, and beyond, these are rich images to ponder. These images also crop up in William Blake's poetry , and even more contemporary music. Sample a couple of clips below...
Have a blessed Saturday, may we each experience the spirit of Jerusalem, even here in this land,
Let the rivers run, Carly Simon (The New Jerusalem)