By Jon Berry
“DEEP CALLS TO DEEP at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.” – Psalm 42, v. 7
“So what happened?” It was a simple enough question. For four years, I’d blogged on a question that had increasingly preoccupied me – how some people wound up doing interesting, spiritual work, and what the rest of us could learn from them. The pursuit had led me into all kinds of tangents – meditation, discernment, memoir. And then, three years ago, I stopped.
A shorter, more accurate answer would be that life overtook me. I got swallowed up. Sent to the depths. In deep.
When I first read the words “deep to deep” in Psalm 42, I thought they described a mystical experience: from my depths, I find Infinite Depth. There is some of that, I think. But mostly this Psalm, which contains some of the lushest writing of all Psalms (beginning with its opening stanza, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God”), is about yearning for a connection that’s lost. The psalmist is “cast down,” a phrase repeated three times in Ps 42’s eleven verses. It’s not an easy place.
“Tehom,” the Hebrew word translated as “deep” here, is primordially dark and deep; it's the abyss. Tehom is the word used in the first sentence of the Bible, before there is light: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1.2)
There’s chaos in this realm. “Being distant from the saving God is like being in the power of the chaotic sea,” notes one scholar. The full verse in Psalms, ending with roars of “cataracts” (waterspouts) and “breakers and waves” surging over the poet, is an echo from Jonah, as he is about to be snapped up by the whale: “You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood surrounded me; and all your waves and your billows passed over me” (Jonah 2.3). The psalmist is in the belly of the beast.
It’s comforting to know that more than 2,000 years ago, someone experienced what we feel today. Psalm 42 does not offer an easy way out. It ends, instead, with a small, simple reminder to hope. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.” This, too, seems enough. Insofar as the words have been repeated across the millennia, in private devotion and cathedral choirs, they carry through the eons a second message: You’re not alone.