“By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. … How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
Psalm 137:1, 4 (NRSV)
The people of Israel, exiled in Babylon, sat on the banks of the river and wept for their homeland. We, too, are people in exile … exile in our own land. Much of what was familiar has been turned into a strange landscape of social distancing and isolation. Many of our familiar rituals—gathering for meals or worship, baptisms, Eucharist, weddings, funerals—have been put on hold. We are stuck in a place of chaos and uncertainty.
I imagine that the exiled people of Israel kept hold of their sanity by telling stories, singing songs, remembering who they were even though they were sunk deep in despair. They sat together over meals and told the stories of their ancestors and the stories of their faith. They recounted the presence of the Holy One who was present with them both in Israel and in exile.
I wonder, How can we sing the Lord’s song in the midst of this foreign land?
I grew up hearing the stories told by my Grandpa Tom. Grandpa was born in South Africa. When his family left there on a trip in 1914, they didn’t know that they would never be able to get back home. They ended up settling on a farm in southwest Oklahoma. We listened to these stories from Grandpa over and over again. The stories shaped me—anchoring me to my heritage. Grandpa’s stories taught me about resilience, compassion, and that I should trust in the presence of God no matter what happens.
Frederick Buechner says that it is in our stories that “God makes [God’s] self known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”
In this season of exile, I invite you to carve out some time to look for God’s presence in the stories of your life, the lives of your parents and grandparents, the community of faith of which you are a part. Take some time to talk with your family members about the stories that formed you. Interview a parent or grandparent, an aunt or uncle, and consider recording the story. If you have lost someone since the pandemic began, consider gathering virtually for a session of storytelling about your loved one. If you can, record the session.
Spend time remembering and telling the stories of your belovedness. Write them down, record them, share them. It is in remembering and telling our stories that we discover God’s presence.
Let yourself sing the Lord’s song in this foreign land.
Tell Your Story:
Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. Her forthcoming Upper Room Book is Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.
While several strategies for reopening the world are being discussed, I encourage you—the people of God everywhere—to allow this season to be a formative one during which you can make new discoveries about God and increase your faith. Use this time to embark on a life of prayer, a life of study, and a life of action—involvement in the community.”