I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
– Psalm 143:6-8
Crushed to the ground by the enemy, surrounded by darkness, feeling his spirit growing faint, David likens himself to “ a parched land.” Through this simile, he is pouring over his own head the characteristics of the desert, thus enacting, in a literary manner, the performance of repentance, symbolized by the ritual of pouring ashes over one’s head. From such a position of abject humility and helplessness, David then reaches out to God, spreading his hands, and begs for an answer from the Lord, just as the desert, barren, fruitless, and lacking water reaches out to the heavens in a petition for rain.
Part of the significance of this literary sacrament is that it characterizes the abject state in which David finds himself. It is important to recognize that there is nothing redeeming in this situation whatsoever. His experience is defined by darkness, weakness, and dismay. The enemy is crushing him, to the point of death and he even feels his spirit fail. His sense of defeat is overwhelming and total. Night is falling, and from the remainder of this day, he expects nothing.
And so David’s prayer is directed towards the future, towards the morning. Having absolutely nothing in his present circumstances to comfort him, he prays for what he recognizes is entirely absent on the basis of what he remembers from days of long ago. His prayer is one of hope. He is thus acting out the principle that Paul describes when he writes, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25). To hope is to desire what we do not see at present, and to be hopeful is to orient our lives around the awareness of the barren desert in which we live, not being led astray by any mirage or illusory oasis, and the expectation that in the morning will come at last an answer, a word of unfailing love.
It is times like the present when we are isolated, when the world looks like it is falling part, and in many ways is falling apart, that we most need hope, firm hope in promises that are true, unconditional, and built not on sand but on solid stone. What is this hope? For Christians it is the firm promise of resurrection at the second coming of our Lord Jesus, when this desert in which we now live shall be remade into a garden of life that shall last for all eternity.
Cam Jones ’20 is a senior in Quincy House studying Social Studies.