|Eduard Bendemann "The |
Sorrowful Jews in Exile," 1832
On Sundays when I don’t have the choir forces for Va, pensiero, I plan to fall back on William Billings’s round/canon on the first verses of Psalm 137 (sung hauntingly here by Don McLean of “American Pie” fame).
On October 3, the appointed Psalm is of my favorite laments in Scripture, Psalm 137:
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
when we remembered you, O Zion.
As for our harps, we hung them up *
on the trees in the midst of that land. …
How shall we sing the LORD'S song *
upon an alien soil?
Last night I was reading the Wikipedia article on Psalm 137. It notes that most classical music settings of the Psalm omit the final verse.
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, *
and dashes them against the rock!
The Wikipedia article then quotes hymnwriter John L. Bell, explaining that he had omitted that final verse from his metrical version “because its seemingly outrageous curse is better dealt with in preaching or group conversation.” However, notes Bell, the verse “should not be forgotten, especially by those who have never known exile, dispossession or the rape of people and land.”
So what do you think about the use of Psalm 137 in worship? Should we truncate it, reading or chanting only verses 1-8 (or perhaps omitting verses 6 and 7 as well, since they serve as an on-ramp to the “outrageous curse”? Or should we be faithful to the Spirit that inspired the sacred poet and use the whole damn thing? (D-word used advisedly.) And if we omit the final verse because it is better to handle the curse in a sermon, would that instead just let the preacher off the hook?