Here is a sonnet that I wrote for Psalm 42. As I prayerfully reflected on this psalm, and particularly on its image of the soul thirsting for God, I came to realize anew what a gift this thirst truly is, because it draws us back to God when we have wandered away. It led me to think again of St. Augustine’s famous insight, in his prayer at the beginning of “Confessions,” that we all are created by God with a restlessness that keeps us searching until we find find rest in God:
You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.St. Augustine
This thirst for God keeps our hearts and souls unquiet until they rest in God, and becomes like bread crumbs that lead all of us prodigals back home to our loving God. Here is Psalm 42, followed by the scripture passages I had in mind when I wrote the sonnet, along with the sonnet itself, followed by a closing prayer:
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ – Luke 15:17-19
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14
Sonnet for Psalm 42
The lonely deer sighs, and searches for streams Just as my soul, God, thirsts only for you. This sounds so good, but I chase other dreams, Resisting, avoiding, this poem, its truth. I yearn for your face, whatever that means, But I chase, I race, I search far and wide - While you wait and watch, with patience so keen. What keeps me from you? Pride, faith tried, denied? Yet deep calls to deep, faith looks for its way. My soul's thirst for you, like bread crumbs toward home, Guides, alongside, as I wander, search, pray - Searching, I see now, for you all along. My thirst for you, a gift not requested, Draws me to you, whose peace I find rest in.
I thank you, God, for my restless soul, that only finds rest in you. I thank you for the thirst that keeps me coming back to your flowing stream of living water. I admit that I have tried to drink from other streams. I have been the prodigal, convinced that life can be lived away from you. And I have been the elder son, too, frustrated with those who have come back to you late. And yet, wherever I am, and whatever state my soul is in, you come to me, and invite me to return home. Why then, should my soul ever be cast down? I place my hope and my trust in you, my help and my God. And I praise you, now and always. With all that is within me, with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, I praise you, my Lord and my God. Amen