Ps. 126: Dreams of Restoration, in Every Sense

Matthew L. Skinner is Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul and Scholar for Adult Education at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. His most recent publications are Acts: Catching Up with the Spirit and the three-volume Companion to the New Testament. He co-hosts the Sermon Brainwave podcast on the Working Preacher website and wishes he could be better at both cooking and gardening.

 

The imagery of Psalm 126 delivers a feast for the senses. With an economy of words it conjures vivid experiences. Maybe you hear the laughter and shouting of exuberant children swarming all over a playground. My mind goes to the roar of fresh water as it pours through a formerly dry riverbed and splashes the onlookers who have come to inhale sweet-smelling petrichor. There is also the tingling buzz of anticipation that pulses through a community when the harvest comes in or when caterers arrive to lay out the banquet for a long-awaited wedding reception.

Those experiences are signs of vitality. They paint scenes of a renewed, flourishing society that made an improbable recovery after a traumatic exile. The scenes and the feelings they generate connect also to modern experiences. They remind us, we who navigate now-dangerous public spaces and especially-dangerous-for-some social systems, of what our hopes for communal restoration could be. They tell us how we’ll know when we’ve arrived into a safer and more equitable world.

The psalm speaks about healthy society in an additional way, beyond the vocabulary of celebration, testimony, irrigation, and agriculture. That additional dynamic is dreaming.

If our senses cannot detect God’s graciousness among us, perhaps our dreams can help. Dreaming prompts us to ask who we are and how we got here.

Dreams can tell us about ourselves. In dreams our minds put old memories into conversation with recent experiences and unresolved problems. In some cases dreams represent attempts to take memories, whether they are suppressed or conscious, and weave them into a coherent, although not always pleasant, narrative. Dreams can help us make sense of things. New sense.

“Those who dream” are those who draw from the past to imagine and bring forth a meaningful future.

Historians look at past events and movements and stitch them together, not only to chronicle cultural memories and to explain history’s subterranean currents, but also to discover insights into a society’s present identity. Historical remembrance can help a community acknowledge who it is now and what makes it well or poorly suited to face current challenges. Any religious community that is attentive to ritual knows that. Perhaps dreaming allows us to do something similar when it activates the human tendency to put past and present into coherent dialogue. Dreamers ponder how to journey into a better future.

Of course, not all dreams are friendly. Nightmares, including the ones fueled by COVID anxieties and threats that visit minoritized bodies in white spaces, remind us how frightening it can be to look to the past. Even recovering joys and hopes from yesteryear is not a guarantee for finding more in the future.

That’s where Psalm 126 proves helpful. One lovely characteristic of this psalm is the ambiguity in how its verbs are situated in time. Some interpreters say the psalm speaks entirely in the future tense, making it from start to finish a prayer for a yet-to-be-accomplished restoration. Other interpreters contend that the entire psalm sings of restoration that occurred in the past, offering praise and gratitude for what has already happened. Still others understand the verbs in vv. 1-3 as past tense, hearing them describe memories of God’s prior faithfulness, and the verbs in vv. 5-6 as future tense, meaning that the psalmist relies on old memories and convictions to provide confidence in what God might yet do.

Translators need to decide one way or another, because they have translations to produce. But I’m happy to embrace the ambiguity and leave those temporal distinctions undefined because, for me, time tends to collapse on itself when I consider God’s faithfulness. Yes, my spiritual ancestors’ perceptions of God’s reliability matter, and their songs and dreams help me know why I believe and hope as I do, but God’s restorative work has never been complete, if complete means finished.

God’s reliability in the past orients me toward the future in faith, but the past was never enough. Restoration always has to involve, I believe, wanting more. I don’t know exactly what restoration for our society will look, sound, taste, smell, or feel like, but it has to be life-giving in every sense.

If scripture’s expectations for peace, justice, and plenty are indeed accurate depictions of a God Who Restores, then may our dreams connect to the dreams God has. May our shared visions make us alert and responsive along the journey to where God has been and where God will be.

 

Read more about the PsalmSeason here & subscribe for email updates.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.
In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.