They say ‘the first sign’ of becoming unhinged is talking to yourself. And let’s be honest, while daydreaming you often catch yourself talking – well, OK not actually to your ‘self’ but to an imaginary ‘other’. It might be that you are really rehearsing telling off that annoying person to whom you would like to give a right earful, or even praising some hero, should he or she ever deign to speak with you.
Sports champions really do talk to themselves, giving vent to self criticism before the world’s media when they foul up a move accidentally. But have you ever considered singing to yourself when you are discouraged and feeling blue? The psalmists of Israel sang some real good therapy to themselves.
By the way, if you use the question ‘who is being addressed here?’ as a torchlight while reading through the book of Psalms, you may get a pleasant surprise at how frequently and unselfconsciously the composer weaves in and out of various intended listeners to his song – between God (and even angels), humans standing nearby (fellow-worshipers, or even the nations of the world), and the singer’s own self (‘my soul’).
Taking Psalms 42:1-11, 43:1-5 as one piece, you will notice even on your first reading, a refrain that he addresses to himself (Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5):
‘Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.’
The other thirteen verses are all addressed quite consciously to God.
In stanza 1 (Psalms 42:1-4), the soloist looks nostalgically to the past, to joyous processions he used to lead in singing up to the temple in Jerusalem (down south) during festival season. Now he is grounded at home, while his family and neighbours enjoy the regular holidays (‘holy days’). His soul is like a deer panting for flowing streams, he is so thirsty for God’s presence amidst his gathered, worshipping people. While they rejoice, he weeps day and night in fits of nostalgia. But he takes himself in hand in the refrain.
In stanza 2 (Psalms 42:6-10) he focuses his song mostly in the present. As he tells God of his upheaval of emotions, stranded here up north, he tells him that he feels he is drowning in God’s ‘waves’ and ‘breakers’ . Then like Jonah who, when feeling depressed, turned the sea monster’s stomach into a chapel, singing: ‘I remember you’, both these psalmists realise that feelings are, after all, only feelings, not facts! That great creature apparently couldn’t stomach all that kind of singing and delivered Jonah safely ashore.
In stanza 3 (Psalms 43:1-4), while still feeling blue and honestly asking God why, he lifts his gaze to the future: ‘bring me to your holy hill’. It’s worth trying this therapy. (It worked again for Paul and Silas when they were in jail in Acts 16:1-38)