There we sat down and wept — Psalm 137
[August 14, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
When they could snatch a bit of time at the riverbank, out of eye or earshot of their masters, the captive Israelites didn’t have to sing happy songs on demand. There they could sit and weep.
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, / when we remembered thee, O Sion.
As for our harps, we hanged them up / upon the trees that are therein.
For there they that led us away captive required of us a song, and they that plundered us a melody: / ‘Sing us one of the songs of Sion.’
How shall we sing the LORD’S song / in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, / let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, / yea, if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth.
(Psalm 137:1-6, Anglican Book of Common Prayer)
The riverbank must have been a relatively safe place for the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon, under the thumb of their oppressors. There they could take refuge for a little while from the humiliating demands of their captors.
Picture the Babylonians ordering the captives: “Obey us! You have no rights here! You should smile and laugh when we tell you to! Take that miserable look off your face! Put on a joyful face! Stop looking unhappy! Sing us songs of mirth! Entertain us! Make us look good!”
Over to you, dear readers. Do you have memories of being ordered to smile when you wanted to weep? And for those readers who cannot weep because your abusers wiped out your natural functions so you cannot physically shed tears, feel free to answer in whatever way is most appropriate for you.
By the way, I have recently moved the comments form to the top of the comments thread. I did this to encourage more newbies to comment on posts. I hope it doesn’t deter people from reading all the comments. Feel free to give me your feedback on this.
[August 14, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to August 14, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 14, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 14, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 14, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Further reading on the topic of tears and weeping