Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

9/8/2014 (1 week ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The beauty of these lines from the Psalmist masks the suffering that prompted their utterance. An entire people, united by their faith in a single God, are captured and taken as slaves to serve the masters of a hostile culture, one still bound to the worship of many gods.

As Christians, we believe that grace abides in everything; we believe that good can arise out of the worst of circumstances. In the weakness of belief, we are tempted to sing no more, to "hang up our lyres." What we are to learn from the Psalmist? Our lack of belief can be remedied by the challenge of living in a "foreign land," where suffering comes from the loss of religious liberty and the scoffing of cultural elites aimed at the principles we embrace.

By the Waters of Babylon- People of faith, no matter the age, have known moments of darkness so bleak that the thought of singing praise, singing joyfully, seemed impossible. Being commanded to sing at such a moment would feel like an insult, a kind of psychological torture

By the Waters of Babylon- People of faith, no matter the age, have known moments of darkness so bleak that the thought of singing praise, singing joyfully, seemed impossible. Being commanded to sing at such a moment would feel like an insult, a kind of psychological torture

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

9/8/2014 (1 week ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: song, captivity, persecution, difficulties, struggle, Babylon, israel, fidelity, persecution, slavery, spirituality, song, music, Psalms, Deal W Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) -

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?

Psalm 137: 1-4



The beauty of these lines from the Psalmist masks the suffering that prompted their utterance.  An entire people, united by their faith in a single God, are captured and taken as slaves to serve the masters of a hostile culture, one still bound to the worship of many gods.

They suffer in captivity asking why their God allowed this tragedy, lamenting the loss of their homeland, allowed by the God who permitted their capture and enslavement.  This people of faith find it hard to worship and pray - they hang up their lyres. 

But their captors, obviously aware of their despair, demand they sing, demand they demonstrate their continued faith in the God who failed them, who forgot them. Their tormentors make the hardest demand of all: the slaves must sing songs of their faith, songs of praise to their God. They are commanded not only to sing but also to sound joyful doing it. 

We can understand the psychology of their masters: You have proudly proclaimed the superiority of your religion, how your God is the only true God, how the rest of humanity lives in ignorance blinded by idolatry - "If all that is true, why are you now our slaves?"

Yes, we understand captives as well, those songs that were so easily and joyfully sung by the people of the Temple do not come so easily to the tongue when the Temple has been destroyed and the people enslaved.  "Tell us now, sing to us now," the masters demand, "about your God who would destroy the temples of all other gods."

Song, as we know, is often found among captive peoples and those standing literally in the face of death. Song has been, in a sense, the only salve available to people ostensibly stripped of everything, their freedom and dignity.  Their song becomes an audible sign of what cannot be taken away.  As early as 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, an entire book was devoted to cataloging the songs of the American slaves (Slave Songs of the United States, New York: A. Simpson & Co. 1967).

Song can express both the defiance of the executioner and the peaceful acceptance of death. As portrayed in Poulenc's opera, "Dialogue of the Carmelites" (1956), a group of Carmelite nuns mounted the scaffold of the French Revolution in 1794 and sang the "Salve Regina." The nuns' song signifies confidence that the sharp edge of the guillotine will not be the end of their lives.

But the Psalmist describes a people who have "hung up their lyres"; a people who have stopped singing about God, their hope for salvation, or even in protest against their captors. The Jews, it must be concluded, were in the depths of despair, and who can blame them? Like their Temple they had been demolished - the very notion of being "the chosen ones" must have elicited bitter laughter among them.  They didn't know their captivity would soon end, would last only two generations.

People of faith, no matter the age, have known moments of darkness so bleak that the thought of singing praise, singing joyfully, seemed impossible. Being commanded to sing at such a moment would feel like an insult, a kind of psychological torture.  Yet, the Babylonians did just that, they commanded the despairing Jews to sing.

On the surface, the command seems cruel and spiteful, and, indeed, the Babylonians intended as much. But perhaps without knowing it, their captors were doing the slaves a favor. Why? Because they needed to sing, not to please their captors, but to reawaken their faith and hope, to once again feel  joy in being alive in spite of suffering and the memories of loss.

As Christians, we believe that grace abides in everything; we believe that good can arise out of the worst of circumstances. In the weakness of belief, we are tempted to sing no more, to "hang up our lyres." What we are to learn from the Psalmist? Our lack of belief can be remedied by the challenge of living in a "foreign land," where suffering comes from the loss of religious liberty and the scoffing of cultural elites aimed at the principles we embrace.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, a Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine. Dr. Hudson's radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for September 2014
Mentally disabled:
That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life.
Service to the poor: That Christians, inspired by the Word of God, may serve the poor and suffering.



Comments


More U.S.

As death toll passes 2,600 U.S. lawmakers worry about spread of Ebola Watch

Image of Red Cross workers in Guinea in protective gear. Currently, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are the worst nations worst hit by the West African Ebola outbreak.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Legislators in Washington are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of Ebola and worry that it could become more contagious and potentially spread into the United States. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - President Obama's new plan to put 3,000 U.S. ... continue reading


Obama gains support from House to further fight against ISIS Watch

Image of President Obama, with the support of the House of Representatives, may now start arming and training Syrian groups to fight the Islamic State, and will continue to strike targets in Iraq.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While President Barack Obama told Americans-in somewhat ambiguous terms-last week that he intended to destroy the Islamic State, as of September 17, he promised that the United States will not fight another ground war in Iraq. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


Values Voters: What We Can Learn from Ted Cruz Being Booed at the In Defense of Christians Conference Watch

Image of Senator Ted Cruz from Texas was the keynote speaker at what was billed as a Gala Solidarity Dinner. Sadly, it certainly did not demonstrate solidarity between Christians. A small group in the assembly, rudely and loudly, reacted negatively to some of the words Senator Cruz spoke as he expressed his convictions concerning the persecution taking place in this land which is properly holy, precisely because of its role in God's loving plan of salvation for the whole human race.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The events of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, at the Inaugural In Defense of Christians Gala make abundantly clear that there is a serious and urgent need for values voters to meet and discuss the crisis in the Mideast and ways in which we can work together to ... continue reading


Our Age Need Rebels of Love: The Christian Church is the Real Counterculture Watch

Image of As a young man I rejected secularist, atheistic humanism - but not humanism itself. As I studied the early Church fathers I came to understand that the true humanism is authentic Christianity, the kind professed, in word and deed, by the early Christians. As I read early Church history I was brought back to the mother church of the entire Christian movement, the Catholic Church. I came to believe that she offers the theological anthropology, ecclesiology and world view of the early fathers of the Church. I also came to believe that she was the real counterculture.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

We can - we will - change the culture of the contemporary West, if we are willing to suffer, struggle and offer ourselves to the Lord for the task. His power, the power of the Holy Spirit, working through us, will accomplish what we can never accomplish on our ... continue reading


What is a Catholic Deacon? Bishop Kevin Rhoades Gives the Answer Watch

Image of The Most Reverend Kevin Rhoades, the Bishop of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, presiding over the Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate of six new Holy Cross Deacons

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

It is a privilege to ordain you permanent deacons.  No, I didn't make a mistake.  Don't worry: you are scheduled to be ordained priests next year by Bishop Jenky!  But what happens today in the sacrament of Orders is not something transitional; it ... continue reading


ISIS among us! New York man sought to kill Iraq war veterans Watch

Image of Mufid Elfgeeh, a 30-year-old, Yemeni born man who lived in New York, attempted to send three people to Iraq to fight for the Islamic State, and purchase firearms to kill veterans from the Iraq War.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Yemeni born food store owner in upstate New York sent funding to the Islamic State and attempted to sent three jihadists to Syria to fight alongside the terrorist cell while plotting to perpetrate attacks against American troops who had served in Iraq. LOS ... continue reading


Father Frank Pavone: 16433 Children Buried in One Grave Watch

Image of Fr. Pavone prays at the graveside of the children

By Fr. Frank Pavone

For many years, this mass grave had no marker or headstone, just as the children have no names. But now there is a stone, and we are going to name the babies. Supporters of abortion do not want people to see mass graves in our midst. It's too disturbing a ... continue reading


Nice try! Democrats try to distance themselves from Obama for midterm, but it's too late! Watch

Image of Kentucky Senate candidate, Alison Grimes, seen here with a shotgun in an ad where she attempts to distance herself from the disastrous and unpopular policies of President Barack Obama.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Democratic Senate candidate, Alison Grimes, is trying her best to let Kentuckians know that she is certainly not an Obama Democrat, releasing a campaign ad where she wields a gun to prove it. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Grimes' 30-second ad takes place in ... continue reading


Are terrorists invading the US through the open border with Mexico? Watch

Image of The Islamic State nay already have sympathizers and cells within the USA. The porous border does nothing to aid the situation.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Americans are worried that the Islamic State will soon conduct terror attacks within the U.S., inserting agents via the porous border between the states and Mexico. At least one sheriff has told the media he received an official alert while the federal government is ... continue reading


'We'll send them to hell!' Texas sheriff declares war on Islamic State Watch

Image of Texas sheriff Gary Painter reveals that he believes the Islamic State has already infiltrated the U.S. through the porous southern border.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Law enforcement agencies along the U.S.-Mexico border have received alerts to be on the lookout for terrorists from Islamic State attempting to cross into the United States, a sheriff from the region has said. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Midland County ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Corinthians 15:12-20
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 17:1, 6-7, 8, 15
1 [Prayer Of David] Listen, Yahweh, to an upright ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 8:1-3
1 Now it happened that after this he made his way ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 19th, 2014 Image

St. Januarius
September 19: St. Januarius was born in Italy and was bishop of Benevento ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter