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Archive for September 4th, 2018


Psalm 88The Land of No Recall

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Francisco Goya: Las pinturas negras

“The anguish of death has rarely found expression in such touching images as those of the present psalm: prison, shipwreck, solitude, and darkness.  The suppliant has experienced the depths of misfortune.  Has God abandoned him?  Despite the depths of the distress, the believer refuses to admit such a thing; he puts down all thought of rebellion within himself.  For although no expressions of hopeful expectation (as in most psalms) are present and the last word speaks of darkness as ‘my closet friend,’ the psalmist firmly believes that the Lord is ‘the God of [his] salvation. 

“This psalm illustrates the hazy ideas that the ancients harbored about life after death before they arrived at faith in the resurrection: in the netherworld (‘Sheol’), in the subterranean pit, the dead have no more communication with God; they are no more than dull shadows of themselves in the land of no recall.  It is a prayer of a man who experiences the depths of human misery, a prayer of Israel at the edge of collapse, but also a prayer of everyone on the brink of hopelessness”.   (“THE PSALMS, NEW CATHOLIC VERSION” 229)

It is suggested by some that this psalm may have been written by someone who at one time had taken an active part in liturgies but who is now isolated from the community by a disease such as leprosy that would exclude him from human contact.  No matter the cause for separation, the plaint in this psalm is almost too difficult to read; and it is for this reason that it is so important.  I have a friend who says: Everyone takes a turn, and by this she means that no matter life circumstances, each of us will suffer deeply at one time or another.

Several of my friends experience depression and the words of this psalm express their feeling aptly.  A sense of being the shadow of whom we are meant to be, the feeling of intensely dark isolation, the state of deepest despair where there is not even a spark of hope . . . these are all conditions described by my friends.  The psalmist here touches the unfathomable sensations of grief, sorrow, and despair that depression brings on and yet . . . in this psalm the suppliant continues to reach for God despite the fact that he cries out from a place that has no recall, no memory, and no expectation of anything other than misery.  We might wonder how this petitioner is able to pray at all for we are left at the end of this psalm with nothing but silence.  This is the world we want to avoid; yet it is the world in which many live.  From Job 19:13-16: My brethren have withdrawn from me, and my friends are wholly estranged.  My kinsfolk and companions neglect me, and my guests have forgotten me.  Even my handmaids treat me as a stranger; I am an alien in their sight.  I call my servant but he gives no answer, though in my speech I plead with him . . .

Platitudes offer nothing to those whose existence is so bleak that what they once knew as commonplace no longer exists; they are well beyond comprehension of well-meaning words such as, there is never a cross too heavy to bear, another door opens when one is shut, every cloud has a silver lining.  When living in the murky depths we encounter today only real contact, genuine assurance, and honest encouragement will begin to penetrate this darkness; words and ideas do not serve.

And so as always, we pray . . .

For those who feel as though they drift in oblivion, for those for whom it is impossible to experience anything but pain, for those who are blinded and deafened by the darkness . . . we ask your intercession, Lord.

For those who cannot help themselves out of the abyss, for those who are the caregivers of the deeply depressed, for those who accompany loved ones in their journey of anguish . . . we ask you mercy, Lord.

For those who are convinced that there is no hope, for those who are incapable of experiencing joy, for those who cannot find you even with help . . . we ask you compassion, Lord.

Oh loving and ever tender Lord, keep all of us, we pray, from the darkness of Sheol.  Oh good and gentle Lord, do not let us slip into the land of no recall . . . for you are our only salvation.  Amen. 


THE PSALMS, NEW CATHOLIC VERSION. Saint Joseph Edition. New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 2004. 229. Print.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.318. Print.   

To learn more about the work and life of Francisco Goya, visit: https://www.theartstory.org/artist-goya-francisco.htm

Image from: http://bringingtheheavyrain.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/las-pinturas-negras-de-goya/ 

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