I am scared for the future of our nation. Terrified, actually. I believe that certain terrible forces will fight with whatever power they can muster--mostly a potent combination of lies, money, and anger--to win whatever they can in the next cycle of elections. When I was younger, this fear used to animate my desire to work for positive change in my community, state and country. Today, the fear empowers my work but the object of my fears is more ominous; the world seemingly more perilous; the backward steps and missteps in general have accumulated to such a point where it's not so easy to dismiss some of the weirdos and wackos who are attempting to seize power in the current age. Is what I read real or is it satire? Are those who would hold office clowns and artists or are they in fact genuinely interested in representing, in the halls of power, the positions they claim as their own? Have I done enough in my forty-seven years to prevent such a reality? Ought I to be doing more? And if so, what? And who are the leaders "on my side?" Are they smart enough? Strong enough? Focused enough? Committed enough? Rich enough?
7. David's conscience torments him greatly after the over-throw of Saul. Saul, deeply disturbed and tormented in his own way, lost power of his own accord. He "deserved" to be removed; regardless, David is in anguish over his own role--real or by implication--in the fall of another. His song here is a song of distress, appeasement, guilt, pain and a defensive justification. Defensive? Why? What did he have to be defensive about? Oh, how the conscience always wins in the end for those who will listen. Because there is always something we can claim responsibility for, something to second guess, something to hold up under the light of scrutiny and demand that next time we do it better. That second guessing can drive us nuts; but it's also the seat of our potential for growth.
In our country today, in the days since Barak Obama became President, certain forces and coalitions have arisen in order to over-throw him. And I believe in my heart--full disclosure--that those forces represent a very large number of people who have the wrong ideas about our nations future. They have yet to prove that they are not substantively motivated by racism, xenophobia and greed. But justify they do and cloaked in the garments of liberty and freedom and constitution, they stand at the edge of an abyss of hatred and retrogression that is truly terrifying. But we, who voted our champion in less two years ago, are already tired. Hah! Generations before us built nations from nothing and we're a bit tuckered out from working for "change we can believe in."
So, yes, we're guilty. And our consciences out to be in anguish at what has become of this nation. In putting down one rebellion against a kind of federal government, we have unwittingly given birth to a stronger one. More trouble to come. Psalms don't always comfort. Sometimes they simply paint a picture.
8. On the wine press. David clearly liked to dip into the wine press now and then and let his pen move across the page. Inspired words flowed like his intoxicating drink--with a blurry truth and potency, reckless insight, and on occasion, breakthrough moments. He seems to be wondering about, drunk, looking at the sky. His reverie has him reflecting on youth--"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings have you found strength" celebrating not only reason and reflections great gifts but also, literally, the energy and passion of the young to re-imagine their world. He is euphoric, and given his dour frame of mind in the previous psalm, it strikes me that here he needed a night out. Re-energized, re-awakened, he found in youth the insistent idea of searching for something new; but in so doing he was reminded of the first man and woman, who were told they, though not as "high" as the angels, were God's partner in creation. Their power (not the angels) was the animating force in the world as we know it.
I was at a wedding this summer and I saw a young man--in his late twenties--pointing his phone toward the horizon of the clear black sky on an August night. Standing next two him were two others, nudging close to catch a glimpse of whatever was on the phone's screen. It was a new google-app which aligns with constellations, mapping them out for you as you point your phone in the right direction. The combination of the eternal gesture--a lad in the dark with a gadget, aimed heavenward--with the restless insistence on ingenuity and discovery--brought to mind David's euphoria regarding the "mouths of babes." The earth and heaven's salvation; the roads and waters of our nation; medical research and the advancement of science; each promise regeneration in part because of youth's admission of what it does not and its playful insistence to know. May they forever be strengthened!
9. People like to point out that Judaism's philosophy of death can be summarized by the Kaddish prayer, which doesn't mention death or the dead but is a prayer about the sanctification of life. In the face of death, we Jews assert life. L'Chaim! That sort of thing.
So it's odd to read a psalm dedicated "al mut la'ben," which could be read to mean "Regarding the death of Laben," (some guy who was finally defeated in battle) or "regarding the death of the son," which no one seems to hold with any seriousness, so of course I fixated on it. What if David imagines writing a poem about losing a child? How would he cope? What would he say? What would it do to his faith? How would he continue to lead while also having his heart torn apart mercilessly from the indescribable pain of losing a child?
And so I read this psalm as a rehearsal of the principles of asserting life in the face of death, of reminding oneself of possibility and sanctification in the midst darkness and surrounded by black clouds of suffering and mourning. This reading, likely wrong, still means more to me. It simply doesn't interest me very much to read David's song of victory and his happy promises to God as a result of giving thanks for one such fortuitous result. Rather, I'm concerned more with how his heart my seek to give voice to the mantras he needs to tell when things actually go wrong. As if to say, "Despite how wrong things are, Hashem, I give thanks with my whole heart; if I can't thank you now, at my lowest, my offerings at my heights are for naught." I believe that. God is more present for me in the darkness than in the light, where it's so easy to be blinded into a bright and chirpy agnosticism.
My child is dead and I give thanks, nonetheless. It is jarring. Disturbing to read. NOW he has your attention. You will banish the enemies; you will minister with justice; you will be a high tower for the oppressed; I will sing your praises in the Gates of Zion (where the mourners sit); the wicked will return to their repose in the netherworld and the needy will be cared for; and I need to say these things and write these things because my heart aches at the painful reality I am facing. And without my faith in the face of death, I have nothing, nothing but a dead son and a God deaf to my own words of thanksgiving.