Hear my prayer, Lord ; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse. For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, Lord , sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations. You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come. For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity. The nations will fear the name of the Lord , all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. – Psalm 102:1-17
It is a little hard to imagine someone singing this psalm. It is clearly describing someone in distress…”in my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones”. — not exactly an uplifting praise song to inspire the faithful. It also sounds like someone advanced in years who has become discouraged and self-focused.
As a person rapidly reaching advanced years status… the dreaded AARP invitation is just around the corner… I can relate to many of the bodily challenges described in this psalm. “My days vanish like smoke” – this sounds like the phenomenon of time seeming to speed up as one gets older. I am not sure why this happens, but enough of my friends and relatives describe the same thing that it is not just me who experiences this.
Bones that burn, a blighted heart, lack of appetite ( “I forget to eat my food.” ); insomnia (“I lie awake”) this sounds like a pretty comprehensive list of common aging ailments. Then comes the strange one “I have become like a bird alone on a roof”. For some reason I immediately thought of the play/movie “Fiddler on the Roof” when I first read this. I am not sure there is any connection, but Fiddler on the Roof is at least partly about introspection on the part of Tevye in his advancing years. I may have to watch it again, perhaps in light of this passage I will find new meaning in it.
What does being a bird alone on a roof have to do with the other common signs of advancing years? The only sense I can make of it is that when we are young we often find it easier to “stick with a flock of birds”– i.e. we are more comfortable and capable of being in community with other people. As we get older, and sometimes more self-focused, being in community is harder. Perhaps this is in part because our bodies are requiring more maintenance and care and we become set in our ways. It is just easier to be “a lone bird on the roof”. What is the remedy for this discouragement and distraction? According to this passage, and many others like it, we are to become increasingly connected to the spring, One who “endures through all generations” — God. This seems a much more palatable solution than the one chosen by the person in this psalm “eating ashes and drinking tears.”
Prayer: God help us to grow closer to You as our bodies grow older and begin to distract us from the time when we will leave our bodies to be with You.