O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me
until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.
Psalm 71 sings like a grandparent’s prayer.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.
Those of us who have earned some gray hairs have a lifetime of experiences that shape our perspectives. We are able to take a long vision that allows us insights that were not possible when we were younger.
Father Richard Rohr follows Carl Jung as they developed understandings about “the two halves of life.” During the first half, we build our sense of identity and security. During the second half, we seek a deeper sense of purpose.
Dr. Jung Jung wrote of his own experience:
It was only after the illness that I understood how important it is to affirm one’s own destiny. In this way we forge an ego that does not break down when incomprehensible things happen; an ego that endures, that endures the truth, and that is capable of coping with the world and with fate. Then, to experience defeat is also to experience victory.
In the second half of life, we have more time and practical wisdom to interpret the lessons of life and discover the purpose of those experiences. But one who is immersed in faith has a greater chance of being able to interpret and discern meaning more accurately. A life of trust allows us to stay grounded in the now as we hold onto hope for the future.
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will
revive me again … You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.
“Honor” was crucial to the success and well being of a people or nations. The concept of shame is much deeper than our American notion of personal guilt or embarrassment. Rather Honor-Shame systems pervade many ancient and current societies and its assumptions are evident throughout the Psalms.
In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame …
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies … say, “Pursue and seize that person
whom God has forsaken...”
O my God, make haste to help me!
Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
In his helpful little book exploring honor and shame throughout the Psalms, Jayson Georges says this:
Salvation in the Psalms is not just forgiveness … but it also involves vindication of honor, restoration of status, deliverance from shame, and the humiliation of enemies … Psalms of praise glorify God for benevolence, patronage, faithfulness, covenant loyalty, favor and generosity as a trustworthy covenant partner.
The praise of the Psalms is not just on behalf of the humans who experienced God’s faithfulness. For Israel, it is also God who is “shamed” when his people suffer shame. The restoration and redemption of God’s people is a vindication of God’s own honor.
The psalmist’s praise gives witness to earth and heaven alike that God’s honor is intact and God’s covenant can be trusted. May the faith of us ‘gray hairs’ also share such a witness to the next generations.
Carl Jung is quoted in Richard Rohr’s article: The Two Halves of Life.
See also Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
Jayson Georges, Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms (Time Press) 2017 Kindle edition.
Here is an interesting article from the Central Intelligence Agency explaining the concept of “Face” within Arab culture.
Kenyan grandmother with child by Stacey Irvin
Thai grandfather with child in Retraite en Thaïlande magazine