For the lead player, for the Korahites, a psalm.
Hear this, all peoples,
hearken, all who dwell in the world.
You human creatures, you sons of man,
together the rich and needy.
My mouth speaks wisdom,
my heart’s utterance, understanding.
I incline my ear to a saying,
I take up with the lyre my theme.
Why should I fear in evil days,
when crime comes round me at my heels.
~Psalm 49: 1-6*
One of three possible Psalms for the Wednesday of the third week of advent, Psalm 49 is fundamentally about how death makes rich and poor, wise and foolish, famous and obscure, all equal. We all spend eternity in our graves an our lives are just brief moments by comparison.
In the midst of this psalm is the phrase: “Why should I fear in evil days, when crime comes round me at my heels.” or from the Book of Common Prayer: “Why should I be afraid in evil days, when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,”.
That phrase caught my attention, to the point that I had difficulty concentrating on the rest of the psalm. There has been a lot of evil, crime, and wickedness in the news this year. There are times when I feel like a guttering candle that has been left in a strong breeze– at any moment a strong gust will put out my flame.
Then I read a passage like this one and I realize how easy it is for me to take on the fears of the world and forget to see the beauty and love that continues even in dark days.
What do I have to fear? More importantly of those things I might fear, what can I do anything about?
Someday I will die, but I don’t know when or how. The only thing I can do is make sure my legal affairs are in order so that those who love me will have one less thing to deal with during their time of grief. There are a few things I can do that might help my quality of life should I be one of those who lives to their 80’s or 90’s but while there are many things I can do to hasten death, there is very little I can do delay it once it is time.
Someday I will likely be seriously ill. I’ve already dealt with the after effects of childbirth, major mouth issues, a wonky gall bladder, a sezuire disorder, mystery fatigue, and several broken bones and I’m only in my 40’s. However, other than a weird sleep schedule, I’m not currently ill or injured. There is little I can do to plan for future illnesses– with the exception of making sure to keep up on my routine doctor visits for screening.
Someday something terrible will happen to me and my family. The mere fact that everyone dies, means that someday I will lose people close to me through illness, violence, accident, or just plain age.
However, that day is not today and that day will come in a way that is outside of my control.
One thing I think this psalm is saying is that I should be careful about what fears I give life to. There is so much to be afraid of in life that it can seem overwhelming at times.
I have a teen-aged son who is on the cusp of adulthood and adult responsibilities and the sheer number of things I am afraid might happen to him can be paralyzing.
Add to that modern media that can show me all the wrongs in the world, regardless of if I can do anything about those wrongs and I feel weighted down by the feeling that all is darkness and death.
I must remember that this is the time in our liturgical calendar when the angels said “Fear not” to everyone they met. From Zechari′ah and Elizabeth to Mary and Joseph, and to the shepherds watching their flocks the angels say over and over again: do not fear, fear not, do not be afraid.
I think I need to take the angels at their word and let go of fear in order to fully live the brief life I have on this earth.
*Translation from “The book of Psalms” by Robert Alter, pg 171
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. She spends a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life and her relationship to God and it all spills out in the essays she writes. She recently embarked on a new adventure with her husband, supporting him as he launches Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: photo by Ann Fontaine via app Waterlogue