Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Like any good Hillsdaleian I dutifully read Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.” If you’re new to Eliot it isn’t where I’d start. I read through “Prufrock,” “Gerontion,” The Waste Land, and “The Hollow Men” before I read the poem. But this is a digression.
During Lent I really turn to the Psalms and the Old Testament Prophets. In particular I was struck by Psalm 137:1-4:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?
Lent is a time of remembering that we are exiles in a strange land. And that it’s not only all right for to grieve for our own sins and the sins of the world, but that this is a healthy thing. In many churches the word “alleluia” goes into hiding for forty days. It’s a small way of hanging up our harps upon the willows.
Of course the miraculous thing about Lent and Easter is that we get to discover all over again that this strange land is not so strange after all, and that it is the Lord’s land. Therefore we bellow “alleluia” on Easter morning.
I would be lying if I didn’t reveal that this haunting song led me re-read and study Psalm 137. It’s worth listening to. I would also be lying if I didn’t admit that I first heard this song in an episode of Mad Men. The Lord works in mysterious ways.