By now y’all are probably sick of hearing about the Psalms of Ascent series at Church of the Servant. Sorry…
A few weeks ago Psalm 129 came up. Now, if you search hymnary.org for, say, Psalm 8 or 40, you’ll get around 60 hits. And most of them will be viable options. But if you search for Psalm 129, you’ll get two hits. And one of them is “Those hating Zion have afflicted me.” That makes for some tough going if you’re a worship planner trying to plan a service around Psalm 129.
I looked in my bag of tricks (the “bag” in this case is my file folders and google doc of the 150 Psalms) and found a song Bruce Benedict had written using the words of Isaac Watts. The song really grew on me. Psalm 129 is not an easy sell, but this musical setting of it made it feel somehow like the timeless struggle of good versus evil. The Psalm is essentially saying “The MAN (and you know who you are) has pushed me down since the day I was born, but he’s gonna get his in the end, because God’s on my side.” That’s the kind of sentiment that we cheer in a film about a triumphant underdog, but it makes us uncomfortable when we read it in the Bible.
Bruce’s original version has an ethereal, lament vibe, whereas mine is more angry, fight the man take on the music. I don’t know if this is a reflection of the difference between Bruce’s and my character, but it just kind of came out that way. It also came out as a full-blown arrangement with string quartet, piano and guitar. Pretty epic stuff. I described it to my pastor like this: “Imagine a film directed by Clint Eastwood in which a man exacts vengeance on the murderers of his family. This is the music that plays as he walks slowly out of town, with his gun still smoking in its holster.”