Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 11) transports me to a scene of sabotage and subversion, as a beatnik poet finds himself and his band of malcontents on the lam, chased by authorities on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government. No, I’m not talking about Timothy Leary or Weather Underground, or Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. I’m talking about the original giant slayer himself, the shepherd boy who couldn’t shoulder Saul’s armor but now is in line to wear his crown once the coup d’etat is complete. David is being hunted and haunted by King Saul, who is himself haunted by an evil spirit, an evil spirit from the Lord no less. Now there’s some material for Tom Wolfe to write a book about. David’s band of pranksters turned out to be less than merry, though.The story tells us that All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. And here, just when he needed them most, they started losing heart. Someone in the group suggested they turn tail and take flight to the mountains, where hideouts might be a bit more secure. David does not look kindly on their advice. Whatever his fate, it is not to put on the chicken suit and flee to the mountains for refuge. He determines to stay put and stand firm, to be ready for whatever Saul’s army throws at him, and to trust in the God of good and evil spirits to keep a good spirit around him.
The second stanza of David’s song underscores his trust in God to make things right. In this era before any temple to the Lord had been built, David sings that the Lord is in his holy temple, the temple of heaven. I can almost hear David singing Pippa’s song from the Robert Browning poem, The year’s at the spring, And day’s at the morn; Morning’s at seven; The hill-side’s dew-pearled; The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in his Heaven—All’s right with the world! God is in heaven, and if all is not yet quite right with the world as David pens the poem, he is confident that it soon will be. He seems to be drawing on the old old story of Noah’s flood for his inspiration. The Noah story portrays God as one who could not abide the earth being filled with violence and corruption, and it shows God fomenting the revolution of all revolutions, raining down judgment and drowning out all the corruption and violence and starting over from scratch with a new regime. Like the God of the Noah story, David’s God literally hates the lovers of violence, and David envisions another rain coming down on the corrupt, this time a rain of fire. Maybe David was humming the old spiritual as he penned his psalm: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time. And the only thing the violent will have to quench their thirst will be a scorching wind.
Given all the long history of violence that has claimed divine inspiration, from the battle of Jericho to the Crusades to Custer’s Last Stand to all of our wars that were supposed to end all wars, it is refreshing to hear David’s subversive song, a song that reveals God as one who cannot abide violence. That David then celebrates the violence of God as righteous judge is more than a bit problematic, and it took Jesus coming to add a new twist to Pippa’s song – God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world not when the wicked are burned, but when they are loved and offered the transforming initiatives of grace. Grace like rain, not like coals of fire and sulphur. Winds of the Holy Spirit of peace and joy, not scorching winds. Now that’s a merry prank if ever I seen one.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.