Psalm 44: We Sink Down to the Dust

Having not grown up in a liturgical tradition, I was shocked when I first experienced it at the way the rhythm of liturgy and litany resonates deep within my soul. “Don’t the words feel artificial if they are not from your heart and brain?” I was once asked about worshiping in a liturgical tradition. I found that the answer for me was that the words of my prayers feels more authentic and have more power because they have been prayed Sunday after Sunday, year after year, some of them for centuries. These prayers get into our communal consciousness and they shape who we are collectively.

The psalm set for this evening in the Daily Office, Psalm 44, is the first of the communal prayers in the Psalter. It is set in the context of worship and the language goes back and forth from leader to the people of the congregation; it is a communal lament after a national defeat. It is God’s people giving rise to their voice at their despair in the moment of frustration and anger, and it is their communal plea for a return to God’s favor. This psalm was likely used in a variety of context as the Israelite people had no shortage of conflicts or moments in which they felt despair.

While our society is not in any way comparable to the people of Israel, we too, especially this past week have known our version of communal despair. We have a need, despite our differences of opinion to mourn the lives lost and the lives hurt by mass shootings, and specifically school shootings. Verse 25 of this evening’s psalm spoke to me on this matter: “For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.” Most of us don’t know what to do in response to this. We are heartbroken and our souls are tired of wading in the waters that have been tinged with school shooting after school shooting.

As a communal lament, Psalm 44 reminded me of the Litany of Lament in one of our Episcopal resources, Enriching Our Worship 5: Liturgies and Prayers Related to Childbearing, Childbirth, and Loss. It’s an underused resource, but when I think about a community giving rise to our fear and exasperation to the ways things are in regards to gun violence, I think of this litany and I pray it far too often.

Litany of Lament

Leader     God, hear our prayer,

People      And let our cry come to you.

Leader     Merciful God, we come to you in sorrow. Help us to grieve; let our tears flow; and look upon our broken hearts. God, hear our prayer,

People     And let our cry come to you.

Leader     We have lost children. We have lost hope. We have lost our way. Consider our losses. God, hear our prayer,

People      And let our cry come to you.

Leader     Our faith has been shaken. We are haunted by memories and weighed down with guilt. We are sick with sadness, weak with despair. Help us know your presence. God, hear our prayer,

People     And let our cry come to you.

Leader     In our suffering, we turn away from those who suffer also. Our bonds have been strained, one with another. Show us your compassion and help us forgive others and feel their sorrows. God, hear our prayer,

People     And let our cry come to you.

Leader     We longed for these children, but our bodies betrayed our hopes. Help us surrender them, and trust in your faithfulness. God, hear our prayer,

People     And let our cry come to you.

Leader    Help us envision a future filled with promise, even if we cannot know what lies in store for us. Help us have confidence in your love as we take each new step. God, hear our prayer,

People     And let our cry come to you.

Lord of all mercies: abide with us when the darkness deepens and we suffer loss, pain, and grief. Help us to know and understand you are with us even when we cannot feel your presence. Let your saving help shine through the shadows as you hold your cross before our eyes, reminding us that you share our sufferings and have overcome death so that we might rise again with you. Let morning break upon our sorrowing hearts; abide with us in life and in death, Lord, so that we may live in your peace and rejoice in your love. Amen.

Enriching Our Worship 5, p. 36-37

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