I expect many of us of a certain age remember the Boney M song ‘Rivers of Babylon’. The words are from Psalm 137, which is about the people of God finding themselves far from home, in exile in Babylon, and so disheartened and troubled that they are unable to sing their customary songs of praise to God.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
we wept, when we remembered Zion.
When the wicked carried us away in captivity
required from us a song
now how shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land.”
I always find that final phrase – how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land – so poignant. Whatever our beliefs about biblical history, these are very evocative words with universal significance. The idea of exile, an enforced departure from home, applies to so many people in the modern world: it applies to refugees and migrants, people on the move due to war, famine or poverty; it applies to people in broken relationships; it applies to those who mourn the loss of a loved one; it applies to sick people, with both acute and chronic conditions.
‘A strange land’ can be any number of situations which cause us to lose our faith and hope and to be profoundly unsettled or traumatized by the changes we experience. The landscape of our lives can alter so dramatically sometimes, that our familiar songs no longer help.
I am a priest and my faith is never supposed to waver! Yet there are times when my ‘strange land’ of chronic illness tests me to the limit. My own voice, with its repertoire of many songs of praise to God, falls silent. It is then that I am so thankful for others around me who continue to sing those same songs of praise. Their strong, unwavering voices carry me until I am strong enough to sing again too.