Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Psalm 142:7 (NIV)
Thus far in my life journey, I am happy to say that I have avoided prison time, at in the traditional sense of the word. But, in the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about prison in a metaphorical sense. Along life’s road, I’ve found myself imprisoned in different senses of the word. I’ve been imprisoned in circumstances (some of my own making, others not). I have been imprisoned to addictive behaviors and indulgent appetites. There are certain unhealthy patterns of thought from which I had to find freedom. I also have experienced the realization of being unwittingly trapped in systemic roles within family, jobs, or other groups for years, and didn’t even know it.
As I think back on all of these examples, I begin to realize that I have “done time” in different ways.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 142, has a more specific liner note than most of the ancient Hebrew songs in the Psalms anthology. It says that this song was a song of David wrote in a cave. It was a very specific period of time in David’s youth when his predecessor, King Saul, put a price on David’s head. David was on the lam for a long period of time and spent most of it in a wilderness region south of Jerusalem near the Dead Sea. The area is a natural labyrinth of steep hills dotted with caves.
It’s helpful to read the lyrics of David’s song in the perspective of his circumstances. A young man, perhaps still a teenager, forced to flee from the most powerful man in the land and all the powerful thugs who could use the bounty on his head. He is completely alone in a desert wilderness within a dark cave struggling to survive.
Sounds like prison to me.
So, David does what he always did in tough circumstances. He sang the blues. He poured out his heart, his hurt, and his longing into the lyrics of a song. As I type this I’m imagining the lone voice of David reverberating in the echo of a cave. If all I heard was the echo of my own voice, I think it would probably only serve to remind me just how alone I really was in the darkness of that cave.
Over the last 2500 years, the Psalms have served as the go-to spiritual pick-me-up for individuals who are experiencing their own personal prison moments. I know I have. There have been very specific moments on life’s road when I went to the Psalms knowing that I could at least find words there to commiserate with the personal prison I was in. The lyrics, like today’s chapter, have given me words for my emotions that my heart just couldn’t find in the moment. They were the prayer that I didn’t know how to muster myself. They reminded me that others have been in personal prisons worse than mine. It has also been encouraging to sing David’s blues and remember that David eventually found his way out of the cave and into the light of better circumstances.
In the quiet this morning, I earmarked Psalm142 so I can quickly find it the next time I need it. 🙂