Meditation on Psalm 42

December 29, 2016

Deep calleth unto deep.

I’ve been reading Giuseppe Mazzotta’s book, Reading Dante.   Mazzotta is – or was, I don’t know if he’s still at it – a professor at Yale and this book is a distillation of his lecture notes over the years/decades of his teaching on Dante.  I’m not very far into the book yet, but I am intrigued.  Mazzotta speaks of Dante’s work as in some sense autobiographical, following the example of Saint Augustine in his book, Confessions.  And, if Augustine is the forerunner of Dante, Mazzotta notes that the Psalms might be considered a forerunner of the entire genre of autobiography.  He makes some distinctions between the Psalms and what we moderns would consider true autobiography, but at the very least, we have to say that the Psalms are personal.  More personal, perhaps, than any other writing in the Bible.

Thus, they have to do with the goings on in the heart and mind of David, the hero of Israel.  And today’s psalm, Psalm 42, is a prime example of that.  This psalm is confessional.  In it, David lays his heart completely bare.  He is, as the King James Version translates, “cast down.”  Here is David’s observation of and inquiry into the state of his own being.   “Why art thou cast down, oh my soul?”

We moderns should have little trouble relating to writing of this kind.  The notion of self-analysis and self-exploration is not a new concept for us.  We know that the bookstores are full of new works on this same subject, week by week and month by month.  And who among us would have any trouble relating to the notion of being “cast down” or depressed?

And here we have it again – the whole idea of desire.  David’s heart burns, his “soul thirsts;” he is filled with longing.  That is powerfully and poetically expressed in the first and perhaps most famous verse of this psalm:

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God


There is good reason for this verse to be remembered.  Not only is the image very vivid, the verse expresses something human, something we all have experienced – desire.

But the verse I find most arresting and most unique in this psalm is verse seven:

Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts; all thy waves and billows have gone over me.


This is a description of a profound emotional experience.  A “religious experience,” if you will.  At once, David was overwhelmed in the presence of God.

Deep calleth unto deep.  As we live our lives in this world, many days may pass without particular moment.  But there are times and places where we may be overcome with a sense of the holy.  It may come as we are reading – where someone says something just right in a way that pierces us and tells us that “yes, this thing you have desired is real” or “yes, what you thought might be true actually is true, in spite of all opposition and in spite of all evidence to the contrary.”

Something out there – amid all of the sound and fury that clutters consciousness – sings just the right song – just the right melody and harmony to cause our soul to vibrate, to awaken.  Oh, there it is!  What I always thought, but was afraid to say.   What I always hoped for, but doubted for so long. There is something that will fill me up and satisfy me completely. 

What a wonder.

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