Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 126) transports me to a dreamland of levity and loud praise as a people locked in captivity look for liberation history to repeat itself. What hope could a tiny backwater nation of shepherds and olive farmers have when caught in the crossfire of major empire collisions? This was the predicament of the poor Hebrew peasants; they were always standing in the way of Egypt or Assyria or Babylon or Persia when one of these world superpowers was set to conquer the other. They would either get occupied or exiled. What could they do but weep? Like Saint Teresa of Avila, their tears watered the garden of their Lord. But the tears didn’t drown out their dreams and memories of a time when the great Emancipator came and shifted the course of imperial history. The captives’ daily crying jags gave way to nightly fits of laughter as their dreams took them to the scene of another mighty intervention that would reverse their misfortunes and bring them home.
Their daily realities and farm-inspired fantasies had them sowing sorrowful seeds and reaping joyful melodies. Their musical repertoire was probably heavy on field songs, for it says they envisioned themselves coming home laden with armloads of sheaves. It’s funny how many of us grew up singing a song over and over again without ever having a clue what it meant. Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. I don’t think any of of us church kids in the mountains of western NC had ever come within several states of a genuine sheaf of grain. We wouldn’t have known a sheaf if we tripped over one. Years later I learned that it is a bundle of stalks – barley or wheat or rye. I suspect the hopeful yodeling yokels of the Psalm were envisioning a time when they’d have the freedom to waltz home with an armload of crusty bread and cold beer (the Hebrews liked their adult beverages).
Anyhow, this is a great passage for any of us caught in captivity of any kind, especially for those of us prone to crying jags. It’s a song that can inspire the sweet dreams of good fortune and freedom. It’s a hope that God will germinate the seeds we sow in sorrow, causing soulful music to bust through the hardest ground and load us down with laughter. FYI, this passage inspired another old barley lover, Brahms, to compose his famous Requiem, in which the Germans like to sing denn sie sollen getröstet werden. Give that a try in your best and loudest impression of Colonel Klink in the shower and see if it doesn’t help turn your tears into laughter. Until then, I’ll be listening to Smoky and tracing the tracks of my tears. . .
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.