Singing Alone in a Room
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? -Psalm 10
Whether one believes in God or not, most people know what it’s like to be lonely, the kind of loneliness that bears weight.
Some can be alone in a crowd, or on stage or in an empty room. Solitude may rejuvenate, but loneliness bears the shadow of a diminished life, a life that is over.
Loneliness can take on the form of helplessness in face of something wrong, a moral failure, or the neglect of precious resources. In this case, a problem may exist, but no one seems to be doing anything about it.
The image of Edward Munch’s The Scream comes to mind in the form of a question, “Does anybody care?”
The poet in Psalm 10 feels alone in the face of threat. He feels helpless as people in positions of power on the right and on the left are battling with passionate intensity — and their followers right along with them. It is as if both pedals of a bicycle are trying to saw off the other, when both are needed to move forward.
In the meantime, the people who are often impacted the most and helped the least are the ones who are not in power. These are the ones who go unseen. They are not squeaky wheels because they are trying to make ends meet and so they are left to their loneliness.
We may draw our breath in pain as we pray for the people of Afghanistan. While there may be no easy answers for how to resolve this age-old problem, it is clear that there is a humanitarian crisis that is affecting those with no voice and no power. “God, are you there?” As we continue to wrestle with round two of a pandemic, “God are you there?” As a nation has been at times so unified, though now, so polarized, “God are you there?”
It is out of such concern that the poet prays:
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
…the helpless fall,
They think in their heart,
“God has forgotten.” -Psalm 10:1,10,11
One may wince at the poet’s honesty. “Where are you? Are you hiding yourself?” He voices perhaps what we all may feel in times of loneliness and abandonment, yet he prays!
He prays like a child singing alone in a room. Why does a child sing? It is usually because a song has been shared that is recalled to memory and given voice. To the question, “Why does a bird sing?” A wise person replied, “she sings because she has a song.” For the poet in Psalm 10, the song is persistent hope amidst perceived silence.
The Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann put it like this:
“…Prayer, then, is an act of deep, albeit irrational, trust that somehow, somewhere there will be a way made out of no way.…It would be quite “reasonable” to quit petitioning after many nights, many days, many mornings of no answer. But then faith that is voiced in the Psalms is not reasonable. It is an act more visceral and elemental than reasonable that bids Holiness to commit to shalom for the speaker, a desperate need about which the speaker will not be silent.”
Walter Brueggemann, From Whom No Secrets Are Hid, 119.
For now, we sing — because even in the darkness, life is not over. Indeed, the God of the poet in Psalm 10 is wildly in favor of justice and restoration. The problems we face in the world are often human problems, but the song reminds us that there are “God-solutions.” It is the song of faith, hope, and love that stirs the imagination toward acts of transformation where possible — even now. As the poet concludes:
But you do see!
Indeed, you note trouble
that you may take it
into your hands;
the helpless commit
themselves to you;
you have been
the helper of the orphan.
Would we be so bold?