For it was there that they asked us,
our captors, for songs,
our oppressors, for joy.
“Sing to us,” they said,
“one of Zion’s songs.”

Oh how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on alien soil? (Psalm 137:3-4)

Kathleen Norris, in her book The Cloister Walk reflects on this psalm by saying,

“These lines have a special poignancy for women: All too often, for reasons of gender, as well as poverty and race, we find that our journey from girlhood to womanhood is an exile to ‘alien soil.’”

How do we sing in the midst of an oppressive patriarchy, when we’re asked to dress pretty and act nice? We may feel that the very language we speak is an ‘oppressor’s tongue.’

How, then, do we sing?

I don’t have an answer. 

I can feel my tendency to jump ahead to a quick and easy answer, to start singing a little jingle. But like those radio commercials that get stuck in your head, my quick and easy answer to this question would be just as insipid, irritating, and shallow. Hardly a beautiful song that’s reflective of my longing for “home” or even acknowledgment that I’m far, far away.

There’s another question worth asking – perhaps as a precursor to the one Norris posits: Do we even know or remember that we’re on “alien soil?”

Probably not. What if we did? What if I did? What aspects of that journey would I need to remember, grieve, mourn, and, while traversing, pray I’m not asked to sing?

Hard to answer. Indeed, hard to sing.

How, then, do we sing? Norris anticipates the quandary and continues, “If the psalm doesn’t offer an answer, it allows us to dwell on the question.”

Maybe, at least for now, its enough to wonder about my “captors,” those things that imprison me; my “oppressors,” those things that keep me (internally and externally) from living freely, fully, richly; my “alien soil,” those places I’ve been led and have sometimes willingly gone that have taken me further and further from “home,” from who I most truly am, from who I most desire to be.

Think I’ll just hum for a bit while I sit longer with her question.