The Psalms of November

It was my senior year in high school, and my classmates and I were just a few weeks from graduation. Our teacher, Ms. Hultz, warned us that as we went to college, we would likely develop a hole in our hearts as we left behind those we loved. We would be tempted to fill the hole with people or habits that weren’t healthy. But if we could sit with the emptiness, we would eventually find our hearts restored, filled with good things.

Just a few months afterwards, after a long flight from Phoenix, a group of students picked me up at the Boston airport. They dropped me off at my dorm room with a backpack, a suitcase, and three boxes carrying sheets and extra clothes. My first-year roommate would not arrive for a few days.

I sat down on my bed’s plastic mattress in a dimly lit room with bare walls. Outside the window, it was dark and the night seemed to creep inside. Just as my teacher predicted, I could feel a hole developing in my heart, tearing through healthy tissue to make way for a well of jagged emptiness.

During difficult times in my life, I have thought of her wise words. Whether it was my cancer diagnosis or the cross-country job change, I have felt like the biblical Thomas. I find my fingers touching the wound that emerges as I leave behind the familiar and try to make sense of the new reality.

I believe the same is true in our quest for God. The psalms this month speak to the Divine-hole in each of our souls and our lifetime quest for the Beloved who will restore us. It is tempting to give in to other “gods” to fill the emptiness — false leaders or unhealthy relationships, distractions or addictions. But as the psalmist says in the first Sunday of November, the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is only in the Lord that “I have found my peace” (Psalm 131).

The quest for God continues in the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time when the psalmist proclaims: “Oh God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water” (Psalm  63:2). Nothing can quench the psalmist’s thirst, nothing can fully fill the void, except for God.

During the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time both the psalm and the first reading speak of the blessings of a woman. However, it is the emotional quality of finding the one for whom we have longed that carries the theme from the previous weeks. The first reading declares, “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize” (Proverbs 31:10-11). Scholars believe that the “worthy wife” could be interpreted as a symbol of wisdom that the ancients sought. Then, in Psalm 128, we hear of a man whose wife “shall be like a fruitful vine” because he followed in the ways of God. When the man fills his heart with God’s ways, “thus is the man blessed” (v. 3, 4). Had the Scriptures been written for a women’s audience, the symbolic roles may have been reversed, but the theme of seeking God to fill us with good things remains.

Interestingly, this psalm (128) and the psalm from the first Sunday of November (131) are both among a series, with each psalm of the series titled “Song of Ascents.” It is thought that the Hebrew people sang these psalms as they climbed the stairs of a temple or on their way to Jerusalem. These were the psalms intended for those who were seeking God!

The month’s psalms conclude on the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, a feast that proclaims that this is the one for whom we have waited, the one who will fill our Divine-ache. During this Sunday, we hear Psalm 23 in which we affirm “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (v. 1). There is no more seeking, aching, emptiness. God is the one who can fill us until our “cup overflows” (v. 5).

When we come into contact with our sufferings, when we touch the deep wounds of our lives, it is helpful to remember these psalms that call us to seek after the One who will ultimately restore us. Indeed, when we behold not only our wounds, but also see that they are part of the great Mystery, we become like Thomas who, when faced with the wounds of Christ, was able to declare that he had found the one for whom he longed: “My Lord and my God!”(John 20:28).

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