Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 63) transports me to a shadowy space of a desperate search, a place where thirst and sinking spells of the soul accompany the deep longing for that which is dearer than life itself. Whenever my Granny used to talk about something she wanted desperately, her favorite expression was that she would give her eye teeth for it. Sometimes it was over something she had a taste for and was really hungry for, as in I’d give my eye teeth for a big chunk o’ fatback right now. When I was a youngster, I had no idea that there were actual teeth called “eye teeth,” and since Granny had false teeth anyway, I didn’t think anyone would trade with her for those, so I imagined her having some sort of magical teeth right there in the middle of her eyes, treasured teeth that would eat up whatever she laid eyes on. I figured those teeth would no doubt put her in a good bargaining position if the need ever arose.
The Psalmist starts out in a place where he is passionately pining away for the presence of God, where he would give his eye teeth for an experience of Divine Presence. When I reflect on David’s erratic and conflicted life, his desert desperation song makes me think he is a cross between the praise songwriter/power-politics advocate Michael W. Smith (I’m desperate for you, your holy presence living in me) and screaming rock star Chris Cornell (Follow me into the desert as desperate as you are, crack a smile and cut your mouth and drown in alcohol, ‘cause down below the truth is lying beneath the riverbed, so quench yourself and drink the water that flows beneath her head). That this song is about a murder connects it even more to King David.
Midway through the Psalm the desperate search pays off. When David discovers God in the form of a feast, his eye teeth do eat up the Holy (I wonder if the prospects of feasting on God made David’s mouth water, the way the prospects of fatback did for Granny). But just as he gets comfortable at the spread of sacred holiness laid out before him, it’s time for a metaphor switch. God becomes a great heavenly bird and David sings out under the safe shadow of protecting wings, clinging for life to a bird leg while singing for joy. He needs this protection, for his is not the only search party in town. Others are seeking something utterly different, quite contrary to the steadfast love of God. They are desperate for destruction, longing to bury the Psalmist deep in the earth. The search of the violent will not be successful though, as they will look in one too many hiding places and instead of finding the faithful to prey on, they will become prey for jackals lying in wait. Living as they do by the sword, they will die by the sword. As for me, I’ll keep longing and pining and searching for more of God that I can experience. I’d give my eye teeth to be able to sing about that search with a voice like Chris Cornell’s.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.