I read Psalm 137 this morning at Morning Prayer. It is both moving and disturbing.  The first third of the psalm, roughly, goes like this:

By the waters of Babylong we sat down and wept *
  when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up *
  on the trees in the midst of that land.

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for myrth: *
  “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing God’s holy song *
  upon a foreign soil?

I think I can imagine this.  Weeping for your lost homeland.  Expected to serve and entertain your captor.  Why would you ever want to sing under those circumstances?  How could you sing God’s holy songs, meant for God’s holy temple, for the pleasure of the one who oppresses you?  Wouldn’t it be better to lay aside your instruments and abandon song altogether?

Now, I’m really out of my depth here.  But I’ve also been reading Wynton Marsalis book “Moving to Higher Ground:  How Jazz  Can Change Your Life.”  In this book, which I’m reading very slowly in pieces, he talks about the blues form which, as I understand it, emerges out of the African American experience of oppression in this country to which they were brought captive.  And this seems to be a different reaction altogether — claiming and naming the truth of your life, and in singing the truth of your life, taking controll for yourself.

On the whole, I’d have to say this second response sounds healthier.  It empowers you by claiming your experience for yourself.  And it empowers you by retaining something you love, music and song, and maintaining it as a central part of your life.

Of course, the psalm itself is certainly poetry, and likely a song in it’s own right.  We just don’t know how to play it today.  So I guess the psalmist is naming and claiming the reality of their own life, capturing the feeling of where they live in that moment, in a way very similar to the blues.

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