Psalm 130 Commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly
Psalm 130 begins with a triple negative regarding pride and self-reliance and overambitious struggles. After much pointless meddling in “things too great”, in areas beyond one’s ability, it moves on by beautifully expressing quiet trust in God,
That relaxation that follows when the psalmist is no longer caught up in the pursuit of personal achievement may remind us of the hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” where the singer prays, “Drop Thy still dew of quietness till all our strivings cease; and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace!”
But, unlike that hymn with its paternal context, our psalmist sees God as feminine, as a Mother! That image becomes more startling when we realise that the psalm was originally a psalm of ascent, having a context where the pilgrim mothers are climbing the hill up to the Temple while carrying the weight and companionship of their children there. The symbolism for life today can be obvious for the uphill struggles of modern parents of children, teenagers and even older!
It is useful also to recall that children can be strident in their demands! Here a weaned child is overcoming frustration at the mother’s breast because, as a weaned three-year-old, it no longer receives milk and has simply to accept that fact, stop screaming and learn to rest calmly in a new stage of trust in the years ahead. Easier said than done! We may still be screaming to God about political and murderous wars, our prayer may even have involved fasting, but we just have hope that eventually that God will sort things out in spite of everything that humans put in the way.
While the psalm had started with a triple negative regarding self-reliance, it ends with simple trust like a child on its mother’s breast. Such simple trust can be a challenging reality. We can surely echo that prayer in the liturgical response, “Keep my soul in peace before You, O Lord!”
Jesus, let’s remember, put a child in front of the disciples. He teaches that true greatness lies in the unassuming ways of children. We are to be child-like, not childish of course, just walking hand in hand together … with the Lord.
Ps 130: words (c) The Grail, England; music CatherineWalker (c) Kevin Mayhew. Recorded by Grace Buckley