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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Wednesday, February 24

For my days drift away like smoke, and my bones are hot as burning coals.
—Psalm 102:3

Sometimes the sadness of hopelessness seems overwhelming. Psalm 102 is heart-rending. My mind has returned to a summer 29 years ago. I remember reading the psalms to a woman in a New York hospital. She was dying of cancer. She was emaciated and could barely speak. But she seemed to love the psalms.

I remember the words from Psalm 102 because they spoke of her condition. I read them to her rather stupidly one day. Somehow she had communicated that she liked for me to read the psalms out loud, though she didn’t tell me through speech, which was too much of a strain for her.

So day after day as I visited, I read psalms to her. On the day that comes back to me, I hadn't read ahead in the psalter. I had started with those beautiful and triumphant psalms in the 90's, and the joyful Jubilate Deo Psalm 100 that I had known from my childhood.

Then I got to Psalm 102. I was already reading it out loud before I knew what it was saying. I was committed before I realized what was coming.

"Because of the voice of my groaning I am but skin and bones." (She was.) "I have become like a vulture in the wilderness, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake and groan; I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top." (Her speech was only groans. She was ruins.) "For I have eaten ashes for bread and mingled my drink with weeping... My days pass away like a shadow, and I wither like the grass." (I watched her curl up before my eyes, dissolving like a shadow.)

The psalm continues as the voice of one who will not survive but who pleas for God to act decisively for the future. Even from the death bed, there is the cry of hope for those who come afterwards. I cringed as I read these words aloud to this helpless, dying woman of great faith.

Was I adding to her misery with my reading? I couldn't know. I could only hope that hearing of her own suffering spoken out of the words of the Psalms might bring her the peace of God's knowing presence within her anguish.

Speak to us in our hopelessness and anguish, O God, with the power of your presence, and be with us to sustain and comfort, unto eternal life. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2007.