Psalms of Resistance #1

The world feels disoriented and afraid. I know so many people who can’t sleep these days. Here’s the first of some ancient songs of resistance and resilience for people and communities.

Blessed are they
who walk not in the council of the wicked 
nor stand in the way of sinners
nor sit in the seat of scoffers
but delight is in the law of the LORD
and on his law they meditate day and night

They are like trees
planted by streams of water
that yield fruit in season 
and their leaves do not wither
In all that they do, they prosper
The wicked are not so
but are like chaff that the wind drives away

Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous
but the way of the wicked will perish*

On What We Choose to Listen to…

We’re drowning in bad news – and while I’m glad to know, but the political powers in the UK and US have become so absurdly cruel, they almost seem like caricatures of wicked politicians. There’s something addictive about watching the next absurdity announced.

I think of Rene Girard’s comment almost every day, that we should choose our enemies carefully, “because we will become like them.” While transfixed on the absurdity of evil, we are in danger of being sucked into the absurdity ourselves. We mirror it. Responses become hateful, social divides become wider and more dangerous, and the real work of resistance, resilience and goodness is neglected amidst satire, memes and mutual commiseration. Too much of the embittered opposition to the Powers today that be has become a noise that does nothing but blow off steam and help preserve the status quo.

To be clear, I don’t propose we put our fingers in our ears, but there is something to be said for taking a step back from “the council of the wicked… the way of sinners… and the seat of the scoffers” – lest we allow the Powers to dictate the terms of the argument. The barrage of their noise is overwhelming, and we can’t put roots down into this narrative. There is no sustaining vision here.

Our song offers an alternative source from outside the chaos: meditation on the law of the LORD. “Law” here is torah, meaning, not rules (A. A. Anderson suggests), but “the revelation of the will of YHWH, which is both demanding and liberating.” Here is a vision that feeds both our view of what is happening, and also our practice in the midst of it – the good hard work of liberating practice.** This grass roots vision outlasts the self-defeating absurdity of today’s wicked Powers. But how so?

On Resilience vs. Quietism

Martin Luther King’s statement that the arc of history bends toward justice, is a restatement of what the Psalms say constantly. The just community, like green trees, will outlast the malfunctionings of the wicked Powers, which will blow away like chaff – the part which history doesn’t keep. This isn’t a call to quietism, and it certainly isn’t a call to grin and bear it in the hope of a happier afterlife. The arena of the Psalms is creation and history. If “the way of the wicked shall perish” it will perish from the earth, just as “the meek,” (not the proud) “shall inherit the earth.”

What is said in this song is repeated through all the rest; the arc of history does bend toward justice, the Creator’s Goodness will outlast the wickedness of corrupt Power. It is with this defiant conviction that we are rooted in a vision greater than the todays absurd narratives. Drinking from this river we can resist evil without being sucked into mimicking its rationale, becoming fearful and hatefulness ourselves. From here, “the wicked” might even become the subject of our pity and compassion.

Today is Ash Wednesday (when Christian’s remember Jesus’ journey out of the hubbub and into the wilderness to overcome evil). A good day to come apart and be watered by a bigger vision.


*I hope no-one will mind too much that I have made this song (psalm 1) gender-neutral. I’ve also made it communal, which gives it something, but also takes something away – namely, its call to the individual to walk wisely when the crowd lose their head.

** The prayerful action of the NO DAPL movement is, I think, an extraordinary and beautiful example of this.