Psalm 77 reads like the diary of anyone who has ever suffered unspeakable pain.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
and remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit …
This dark night of the soul is speechless. There are no words that can communicate the trauma and grief. Like Job, sitting in silence in the ashes for seven days, sometimes there is nothing to say.
And then, after the silence (as is true of all the laments of the psalms), comes the challenge. For Israel, God is the Covenant God, the One who has promised to keep promises. So – where is God now? – the poet cries.
Has God’s steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
But then – after the silence, after the challenge – when this psalmist turns the lament, he turns it to remembrances of a better day. Even in the midst of the current despair, his spirit searchings produce memories of another time when God’s faithfulness was actual and visible.
I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds…
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Even though this particular poet did not experience these particular deeds of the Lord, this is communal memory. What happened to the ancestors, happened to us. Even today, at every Seder meal, the litany of the Haggadah recites:
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the L-rd, our G‑d, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.
Rivers to blood. Lightnings and Hail. Locusts. Frogs. Lice. Death.
In the memory of Israel, the Creator summoned all of creation to rise up against Egypt on behalf of an enslaved people. And then, the ultimate picture of their salvation: the winds blew, the seas parted, God’s people passed into freedom on dry land while the enemy was trapped in chaos and destroyed.
The poetry of Psalm 77 is powerful as it sings the praise of the Creator who commanded creation to participate in redemption and justice.
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
the very deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
He sings praise of the Shepherd who guided wanderers to a new land, a Promised Land.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Here is where our grieving poet ends his prayer. This Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer God has done this mighty work before. Will God intervene and once again redeem Israel from Exile?
He begins with lament and ends with memory. The psalmist offers this remembrance for both Israel and Israel’s God: Covenant cannot, must not, will not fail.
Image of lament: Couple Reaching Up by Evelyn Williams