Wednesday, March 5, 2008


This morning's daily office included a psalm that really hit me between the eyes. If you've ever been angry at someone, then this is the psalm for you. It's the perfect combination of furious imprecation and self-pity. The author certainly wasn't playing around when he described his enemies in this psalm.

Psalm 109

Do not be silent, O God of my praise.
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues.
They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them.

So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
They say, "Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin.

May his days be few; may another seize his position.
May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.
May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the LORD, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be before the LORD continually, and may his memory be cut off from the earth.

For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death.
He loved to curse; let curses come on him. He did not like blessing; may it be far from him.
He clothed himself with cursing as his coat, may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones.
May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself, like a belt that he wears every day."
May that be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life.

But you, O LORD my Lord, act on my behalf for your name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is pierced within me.
I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt.

I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads.
Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love.
Let them know that this is your hand; you, O LORD, have done it.
Let them curse, but you will bless. Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.
May my accusers be clothed with dishonor; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.

With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would condemn them to death.

As I prayed this psalm this morning, I was moving along just fine until I hit that eighth verse; then suddenly I felt like I had suddenly turned a corner and run into barbed wire. Here the author accuses his enemies of placing the most vile curses upon him, and he asks God to protect him from these curses. It's one thing to be angry at someone; it's another to wish their children into oblivion. Yet this is what the author of this psalm claims his enemies have done to him.

Then I got to verse 16, and it was eerie how the next four verses described the person at whom I was angry. "He loved to curse; let curses come on him. May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself, like a belt that he wears every day." How might our speech be changed if we really took that image to heart? How often do we let our words surround our hearts like sharpened stakes imbedded in the ground, thinking that we preserve ourselves when we go on the offensive against any perceived attack? Yet all we do is diminish ourselves, and our openness to love.

When we assume this posture, how easy it is to "not remember to show kindness." What kind of anger and hatred would lead someone to "pursue the brokenhearted to their deaths?" How often do we hear people blame the poor and downtrodden for their situations, accusing them of bringing their misfortune upon themselves through laziness or a sense of entitlement that someone owes them rescue from their pitiable situations? Even worse, how often do these adherents of Social Darwinism claim to be faithful people?

The section on curses brought to mind a section of the Gospel of Mark that we read a few days ago (chapter 7, verses 14-23):
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside you can defile you by going into you. Rather, it is what comes out of you that defiles you."

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters you from the outside can defile you? For it doesn't go into your heart but into your stomach, and then out of your body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: "What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you."

The curses we direct at others do not harm them, rather, they are a burden upon us. Their weight, and the weight of the anger that they represent, crushes us and enervates our very spirits. They are generated from our very depths, out of our pain and anger and brokenheartedness, and yet they alleviate nothing; they merely press us down even more.

O Lord, in my brokenness, I am gone like a shadow at evening. Help me to remember that those who hurt me or wish me harm are just as broken.

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