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A retelling of Psalm 130: Seeking a fortress

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Lent is a season of the liturgical year that invites us to lament the brokenness of our lives. The psalms are ideal to use during this time of year because of their frequent use of lament. I have found various psalms of lament healing and even liberating on my faith journey, and one of my favorites is Psalm 130.  I first came to love Psalm 130 after I encountered Martin Luther’s poetic rendition of it. There’s a moving version of his rendition translated into English by Richard Massie in the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal, especially the stanza translating verses 4-5 of the psalm:

Therefore, my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit.
On God my soul shall rest; God’s work
Upholds my fainting spirit.
God’s promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort, and my strong support;
I wait for it with patience.

We often use metaphorical language to refer to God as a refuge, a fort, or a rock. I assume this image was very meaningful for Luther, as it appears in other hymns he wrote (i.e., “A mighty fortress is our God.”) Perhaps this metaphor took on new meaning for him while he was locked inside Wartburg Castle, seeking refuge from those who were looking to harm him.

For me, there is something especially meaningful about acknowledging God’s own “promised mercy” as my fortress. I read Psalm 130 as a prayer about feeling spiritually empty, about feeling spiritually distant from God, and I find encouragement in thinking of God’s mercy as my fort. No matter how I feel about myself, no matter how close I feel to God, I take refuge in knowing that God promises me mercy. If God feels distant, it’s not because God is hiding to stay away from me; it’s not because God is quietly stalking me, waiting for the right moment to attack; it’s not because God has laid a trap and silently waits for me to fall into it.

No, God is radically loving and accepting. God is neither neglectful nor vengeful nor punitive. We will always find a welcome from God. In a world that can be so unforgiving, God is merciful. When we can be so unforgiving to ourselves, God is merciful. Sometimes this strange and wonderful thing happens when I reflect on God’s mercy during times of spiritual emptiness: I feel my emptiness filling up. I am reminded that, whatever God is up to, whatever I am unable to perceive, my faith tells me God is good. And so: I wait and trust.

I offer you this paraphrase of Psalm 130 to read and reflect on as we journey through Lent together. There is much to lament in the world today. May God’s mercy and love be your fortress.

Psalm 130
I feel so far away from you, Lord.  I’m crying out as loud as I can!
Can you even hear me calling out for help?
 If you were keeping score of all our failures, Lord, we wouldn’t stand a chance.
But you are a mysterious God, who offers forgiveness so generously.
So, I wait for the Lord. All I can do is wait! I believe what the Lord says – about me and about God.
So, I trust and wait! With even more certainty than trusting that the sun will rise in the morning, I trust you will appear!
O people of God, the Lord offers you hope!
Though you feel distant, the Lord is with you, for nothing can stand between God and those whom God loves.
God will set all things right for the people of God. Just trust!