They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters;
These men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
For at his word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep.
Their soul melteth away, because of the trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.
So when they they cry unto the Lord in their trouble he delivereth them out of their distress.
For He maketh the storm to cease, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they are at rest; and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.
You can listen to Sumsion’s wonderful setting of this text here.
I’m feel so unqualified to comment on the Bible that I’m diffident about putting this up here, but I’ve been haunted by this text since someone brought it to a group I was facilitating a few weeks ago, and so it had to be done. I first came across it at choir, years ago, and I took it to the counselling training course I was then on, offering it to the group as an image for the kind of turmoil you go through when you engage deeply with the process of becoming a counsellor and get to know your own emotional landscape/seascape. The group agreed!
Sumsion’s setting of this is an instance of when a musical musical setting wonderfully enacts the text, enhancing its impact. But even without this added dimension, I love this psalm for the image it offers: that simply to engage with life is already to move upon ‘great waters’. That’s where we’ll see ‘wonders’ but also where we’ll encounter storms and ‘trouble’. And I’m silenced-by-pleasure at ‘their soul melteth away, because of the trouble’. There’s something so simple about that, and yet so clear. What a way of putting it.
When you are at your wit’s end—out of ideas—sometimes ‘cry[ing]’ is all there is left to do (whoever or whatever you may feel you are crying to, if anything it all). For me, the text is about our powerlessness, but also about the function of complaint: it reminds us that allowing yourself to express your distress, and ask for help, are both valuable things (if not “British”!). It’s also a reminder that storms, however intense, do—one way or another—eventually cease.