Written by Micki Ann Harris | ChattHOP Staff
I sit in the comfort of my home with the intention of writing a blog about being in exile.
I argue with myself to not even go there, since I know absolutely nothing about what it means to be exiled in the literal sense - forced from my home, my land, from everything familiar to me.
To draw a spiritual lesson by comparison, to a very current, real, and pressing global issue seems insensitive. And yet, I would pray that those finding themselves forced from familiar into a foreign land, whether literal or metaphorical, might be equally encouraged.
Not since World War 2 have we seen such a severe, world wide problem of refugees.
The last time I checked there were over 60 million displaced human beings.
Men, women, boys, and girls from Syria, Honduras, Nigeria, and Myanmar to name a few, fleeing and flooding to Europe, the US, and Australia. Driven out of their homeland by violence, persecution, or natural disasters, they embark on foot, in vehicles of every kind, in small boats filled way beyond capacity, some even found swimming — all seeking safe haven. It seems the world is a snow globe in the hands of an eager child.
Seeing the current news headlines, and viewing the images of desperate lives and agonized faces, I find it easier to envision and relate to a Biblical event from over 2500 years ago, where tens of thousands of Jewish people sat distraught and helpless as their homes were invaded and set ablaze, their city walls torn down, their temple razed to the very foundations, and their most prized treasures of worship: stolen.
And he (Nebuchadnezzar) carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king's house… Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. (2 Kin 24:13-14)
Such was the fate of real people – men, women, boys and girls – plundered, emptied, and taken as captives to Babylon. Though God had warned them, it is no less heartbreaking to consider their devastation.
And so, they did exactly what I would have done, and what I imagine many refugees across the globe are doing at this very moment:
They sat down and cried.
They wept upon remembering.
Considering their lives now… remembering their lives before…
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down.
Yes, we wept when we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song.
And those who plundered us requested mirth.
Saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion!
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
While we may not be able to relate to literal exile, like the current refugees or the Jews sitting by the rivers of Babylon, we may very well know the pain of it.
Though common among us, and hopefully, ultimately redemptive — adversity does not cease to feel disruptive and invasive. The death of a loved one, a medical diagnosis, financial loss, unwanted transition, broken relationships... crisis. At first arrival, they break in as intruders, seemingly stealing our treasures, overturning our “normal,” taking us captive to a foreign land.
Suffering catapults us into unfamiliar territory.
Suffering insists on an internal migration where undoubtedly you will end up somewhere different than where you started.
Like castaways on some stranded island, we are prevented from finding our way back to life as it was before: the dearly beloved usual.
Oh, how we long to return…
As expressed by the psalmist and experienced among the exiles sitting along the river banks, the captors of suffering can make their demands:
They can steal our songs.
They can steal our joy.
They can rob us of dreams and empty us of vision.
They can cause us to hang our harps upon a tree.
And here I must pause and express something that has always troubled me about this Psalm:
I can understand the sorrow, though it be unimaginable. I can empathize with the tears which flowed as incessant as the river before them. I can relate to the angst in remembering how things used to be… the anger at their captor’s mocking and demands.
But, everything in me says:
Exile is NO time to hang your harp in the tree!
NO, my friend, take it down! Take down those things you’ve “hung up” during the long season of suffering.
All that the harp symbolizes for you: your joy… dreams… vision… identity… your faith… your worship.
All that has been stolen or forfeited — all that is needed now more than ever.
Why should the enemy hold your “harp” as a trophy of defeat in his tree?
Remember who you are, who your God is, and what He is able to do.
Reclaim your harp from the weeping willow. Rehearse the songs – and sing them!
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
Oh, but we can.
Right in the midst of it.