I’ve spend a good deal of time this Lent meditating on Psalm 4, which I still have memorized from when we used to pray it as part of the Iredell House Night Prayer liturgy. (Iredell House is a post in itself, which may shortly be forthcoming, so no more on that just yet.) The version of Psalm 4 I have memorized, I have just discovered, is not an especially sound rendering of the Hebrew, but Psalms are difficult to translate because of their poetry. I do find the translation is poetic, so that’s in its favor. Here’s how we prayed it on Monday nights at Iredell House:
Answer when I call faithful God
You cleared away my trouble.
Be good to me, listen to my prayer.
How long proud fools, will you insult my honor,
loving lies and chasing shadows?
Look! God astounds believers.
The Lord listens when I call.
Tremble, but do not despair.
Attend to your heart,
Be calm through the night,
Worship with integrity, trust in the Lord.
Cynics ask, “Who will bless us? Even God has turned away.” You give my heart more joy than all their grain and wine. I sleep secure at night
You keep me in your care.
Christians have always prayed the Psalms, which makes them a good place to go when you don’t know where to begin with prayer. The psalms are full of words that countless numbers of God’s people have addressed to the Lord throughout thousands of years. So it’s good to have them in one’s head, and I’ve found that nothing gets text in my head like reading it out loud regularly. That is, of course, how this psalm got into my head.
Lately the prayer liturgy from Iredell House has generally been going through my mind, but this psalm particularly rose to my consciousness when I thought about the theme for this year’s annual Juried Arts Exhibit at Duke Divinity School. The theme derives from the title of Norman Wirzba‘s book, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating. Putting the theme of the arts exhibit together with meditating on Psalm 4 did eventually conjure an image in my mind that I’ve now painted.
I particularly like this one, if I do say so myself. It occurred to me, when I first began thinking about Psalm 4 in connection with the “Food and Faith” theme, that there’s actually only one line in the whole Psalm that mentions something one could depict visually. So whatever I painted would have to include “grain and wine.” In addition, apart from the fact that I’ve always prayed the psalm at night, it has the sense that the speaker is saying these words in the evening. The psalmist is alone with God, sending these words out to no one else. The speaker acknowledges simultaneously that the gifts of grain and wine bring delight, but that God is delight itself.
In the painting I’ve created, a woman sits on a low stone bench on a terrace under a tall arbor of grapes, framed by two sheaves of wheat. She has a carafe and a goblet of wine on her right and a bowl with some bread in it on her left, but they do not hold her attention. She looks out, instead, across a valley full of vineyards to distant mountains and the silvery moon that hangs low in the sky. Grain and wine are good, but they are not God.
I suppose a real artist would let the painting speak for itself, but I do want to share one last thing about it that makes it more meaningful to me: it’s actually painted on an old cupboard door that I salvaged when we tore out an unused kitchen at Iredell House and renovated it into a guest room. Sort of brings it all together.
The Juried Arts Exhibit will be up on the “0” level of the Divinity School this week through May. Those of you in the Durham area might want to come take a look at it.