Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

9/8/2014 (2 months 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 (2 months 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 November 2014
Lonely people:
That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.



Comments


More U.S.

Fr. Randy Sly on Thanksgiving and Our Roots of Faith

Image of Ceremonies and periods of thanksgiving are woven through the entire tapestry of history. We find them in the Jewish Calendar of Feasts, in other world religions, in European cultures and native practices of North America, South America, Asia and Africa.

By Fr. Randy Sly

Thanksgiving Day has become a time when we watch parades and then take in large amounts of food and football. According to some calculations, 46 million turkeys-around 550 million pounds-will be consumed during Thanksgiving this year. But that's not how it began! ... continue reading


Thanksgiving Day: We are Still One Nation - Under God Watch

Image of The sincere sentiments expressed by this extraordinary leader, George Washington, should inform our response to all of the challenges we face today in the United States of America. We are still one Nation - under God. They should also inspire us to pray for great leaders to emerge in this our great hour of need. Leaders who can help us see this as an hour of opportunity and an invitation to reaffirm our reliance on God.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

This week the people of the United States of America struggle to find a way through the trauma we are experiencing in the wake of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Too many self-appointed "experts" seem all too eager to tell us what divides us. However, even in ... continue reading


Following Ferguson shooting, police departments rush to adopt body cameras Watch

Image of The purchasing of body cameras by police departments nationwide has increased dramatically following the shooting of Michael Brown.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Whether you believe the story told by Ferguson police officer Daren Wilson, or by the family of Michael Brown, it is certain that the case has changed the face of law enforcement in America. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The use of body cameras by police ... continue reading


Catholic Shopping .com is about to have its biggest sale ever for Black Friday weekend!

Image of Sign up so you don't miss any deals during this special Black Friday weekend sale!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

This weekend, Catholic Shopping .com is having an amazing sale with up to 70% off of selected items. These deep discounts will help you finish your shopping early, but be prepared, many of these sales will last just an hour or two and then the specials will be gone! ... continue reading


A Boston man has something new to be thankful for after he received a double arm transplant Watch

Image of Will Lautzenheiser, a professor of film production and screenwriting at Boston University had to undergo surgery to remove his arms and legs in 2011 after he came down with a life-threatening streptococcal infection.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Boston man who received a double arm transplant in October is making remarkable recovery, just in time for Thanksgiving. The best part, he says, is that he is able to hug his loved ones again. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Will Lautzenheiser became infected ... continue reading


Dreaded cartel overlord Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez sentenced to 22 years in prison in U.S. Watch

Image of Top Sinaloa cartel thug Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez has been sentenced to 22 years in prison in the U.S. for planning the delivery of more than 600 pounds of cocaine.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Top Sinaloa cartel thug Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez has been sentenced to 22 years in prison in the U.S. for planning the delivery of more than 600 pounds of cocaine. Some of the damning evidence against him was provided by twin brothers Pedro and Margarito ... continue reading


Here's 3,000 reasons why Obama just made illegal immigrants more attractive to your employer Watch

Image of Due to a loophole in Obamacare, the president's new amnesty plans mean that employers who hire illegals don't have to cover them with insurance, and won't be fined for doing so.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Obama's new amnesty plan is going to have some drastic effects that most American's aren't aware of, one that may just get you kicked out of a job because of all things, Obamacare. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Under the Affordable Care Act, ... continue reading


Acknowledging Unknown Soldier over known soldiers: Over 1.2 million veterans lack health insurance Watch

Image of As a culture, many of us feel more comfortable honoring the tomb of the Unknown Soldier --

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

As many leave laurels at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the United States refuses to acknowledge the health and benefits of known soldiers. While most people assume that veterans automatically receive health care coverage through the Veterans Health ... continue reading


Ferguson in flames as policeman who shot, killed teenager found not guilty Watch

Image of Police claimed they came under heavy automatic weapon fire. Some buildings were left to burn because of the danger.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

People have responded to violence - with violence. After Police Officer Darren Wilson was been cleared of all charges in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in August. His surrounding community of Ferguson, Missouri has responded with widespread ... continue reading


Priest in Ferguson reports deep mistrust between groups fueling tension Watch

Image of Police in Ferguson move detain a protester.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Catholic priest assigned to Ferguson, MO, spoke with Vatican Radio about the "festering" mistrust between the populace and police. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Vatican Radio shared an interview with Fr. Arthur Cavitt, a parish priest who was asked about the ... 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, Revelation 20:1-4, 11--21:2
1 Then I saw an angel come down from heaven with the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 84:3, 4, 5-6, 8
3 Even the sparrow has found a home, the swallow a ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:29-33
29 And he told them a parable, 'Look at the fig tree ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 28th, 2014 Image

St. Catherine Laboure
November 28: St. Catherine Laboure, virgin, was born on May 2, 1806. At an ... 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