A few years ago I discovered John Coltrane’s album “A Love Supreme.” Fans of the Trane will know it, but if you’ve never heard it you ought to give it a listen. At least listen to the fourth movement, “Psalm,” because it’s what I’m writing about right now.
Go ahead…listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1xe7FDsQWY
“Psalm” is shockingly mournful, full of anguish. It caught me off guard the first time I heard it, in that way that only the best music does. It still catches me off guard. I guess I thought it would be more peaceful, and in a way there is a peace about it – but an uncomfortable peace. Do you know what I mean? I thought that something called “Psalm” would be less…difficult.
I had to memorize Psalm 23 when I was a kid. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters.” It was kind and poetic and I liked it. When I got older, though, it seemed platitudinous, like some nice sentiment. The Psalms in general seemed to be full of nice sentiments, either that or asking to be rescued from enemies. Since I didn’t have enemies and I was growing in cynicism toward comforting sentiments, I didn’t have much time for Psalms. To me (in my limited reading of them), they were fluffy.
After much more life (in years and experience, though comparatively little of both), I started reading Psalms again. It’s a much different picture. It’s a picture of desperation, even anguish. Of clinging to the Lord when there is nothing else left. David knows what I feel…he felt it too. “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63)
Green pastures and still waters seem unnecessary when you haven’t been to the desert. But when you’ve been there…
“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 116)
I understand both “Psalm” and Psalms a lot better now that I’m a little older. Psalms isn’t a one-color, two-dimensional book; it’s not a book of affirming poetry. It’s a book of raw, even painful honesty and the Lord’s goodness to rescue us. What does it mean to walk before the Lord in the land of the living when you haven’t been in the grave? I get now why Coltrane called his melancholy, discordant song “Psalm.”
Maybe this all sounds very depressing to you. Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, what’s wrong with Corinne? She sounds depressed.” Maybe your life is always sunshine and butterflies and you never get sad. My life isn’t always sunshine and butterflies, but the Lord is always good. His steadfast love endures forever. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing I desire on earth besides you. My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73)