If I could choose one phrase to describe the history and story of the Israelites at this time, I would say theirs is a Story of Ascension and a Wrestle with Hope.
There is a small collection of songs that are set apart in the history of the Israelites. These songs are my songs too, tales of despair that rises to hope, recognition of shame that leads to restoration – and always, in the closing stanzas, God is glorified, made known, shown as merciful and good.
These psalms are short (sweet relief immediately following the epic ps 119), able to be memorised and they were sung as the people ascended the steps into the Temple for sacrifice, worship and ritual.
1. The Ascension
The Climbing of Stairs, the memory of rhythm, of rising, of systematically and methodically going back to the place of worship and the Glory of God. The rising up from lowliness. As we approach God, we are raised up from the earth into the kingdom of heaven. Light is always above us. Many of these psalms journey from darkness to light just as we climb closer to the sun as we ascend the heights.
The rhythm of hope that beats through the psalms of ascent is the rhythm of returning. Year upon year, time after time, recalling to God his great promises of mercy, his great deeds of deliverance and redeemption throughout their history they would remind God of his promises as they approached the holy of holies.
So we rise, those of us who have been prostrate, laid down in the darkness. Blackened with soot and desperation. Those of us that have words too honest for keeping, they burn on our tongues. And we climb, onwards and onwards, recalling the songs of our own history, recalling God’s promises to mind, declaring again his merciful hand with us. We climb and ascend once again towards the Light, only to grow evermore conscious of these two truths…. the unfailing and unstoppable force of redeeming love, as we watch the curtain of our own hearts be torn again from top to bottom….. and the ever persistant hope that is birthed in us again, even as we climb.
clenched fist against my chest
desperate words of hope confess
i am empty for the sight you
some say that it’s a gift
to see what i see and to know
but i see the truth it is
a gift like this is only for my father’s table
a gift like this means nothing
if not for you, my father’s hand guides me
where to go, i only know his direction
how is it here in my broken shame
i still know your voice and i lean in
compulsively drawn to the truth i know
i will walk this way where my brother goes
and i take the cup as it is to me
the sorrow of knowing you keep me in this life
for where i want to be you know
in my father’s home, is the life i long to know
for to make what i can from these hands
threading my words for another man’s praise
oh i need not your praise for the work of my hands
is only for my father’s display and all other causes
a plain facsimile, mean nothing to me
i put my life in your hands
make your Glory in me, be seen.
Oh i’ve learned what pleases you more than most
and my gift is the gift of sight
i recognise your art in life.