(See yesterday’s post for the first translation …)
Second, the translation found in the Book of Common Prayer:
[Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause;]
you set me free when I am hard-pressed;
[have mercy on me and hear my prayer.]
The contrast between room-giving (RSV) and setting free (BCP) reminded me of the story related by Jennifer Lash in her book, On Pilgrimage:
While we were standing together at the back of the basilica, there was suddenly a tremendous gust of wings. Sparrows and pigeons were continually flying around, but this gust of bird was mighty and different. We looked up, and there, high above the narthex was the unmistakable, compelling face of a barn owl. Again and again it flew and paused, frantically crashing its white body with terrible hopelessness against the dusty windows. Every so often it would fly the whole length of the church, only to soar up again into another barrier of light. I cannot describe how unbearable it was to follow the flight of the bird, knowing that we were quite incapable to give it its freedom. There were holes and spaces, if only it would see them. Each time it failed, the pause and the stillness became longer, and the fearful despair of the bird felt greater.
We left for the library. We couldn’t bear to be there. Later, the whole experience haunted me. The gaze of that particular bird is so involving. I suddenly thought, what if God witnesses in every man a divine spark, which files within us blindly, like that bird, crashing in terror, punched and pounded from wall to wall, blinded by obstacles and dust, and yet, God knows, that there is a way for natural freedom and ascending flight. What an extraordinary pain that witness would be.*
The congruence of room, and freedom, and creatureliness are an awesome and frightening prospect. Is it a blessing? Is it part of the Fall of creation? Does God give us space in hope or out of despairing compassion at our fallen state?
Where does the barn owl, flying in an empty but prayer-filled church, find gospel? In the absence that room creates, in the freedom of absence, where do we?
* Jennifer Lash, On Pilgrimage (Bloomsbury, 1998), 126-127