“I mused, and my spirit grew faint.”
It’s a 19th century line, something lifted from old novel with a frontispiece portrait of an anxious woman sitting in an English garden. It’s the kind of line I sometimes get from young women writers, even today, who imitate the old mannered styles they once loved—as in “’Oh, Santana,’ she mused, sighing.” You know--that kind of thing.
“I mused, and my spirit grew faint,” Asaph says (place back of hand quickly to forehead, roll eyes slightly). When lifted on its own from the text of Psalm 77, it’s hard to take seriously.
I used to cross such usage out of my students’ stories, mark them “Yucch.” In our post-modernity, when most anything goes, I simply ask the students if they really want to invoke such old-fashioned sentimentality. Used to because eventually I became a kinder, gentler teacher.
If etymology serves us well, muse has an interesting history, its French ancestral usage was related to a dog’s muzzle, a source which prompts word historians to speculate that muse might have to do with the way a dog raises its snoot in the air when it wants to determine direction or difficulty. Plus, there’s the proximity of the word muse to amused, which Asaph, abed in misery, certainly is not. But nothing in either image helps us with the gravity of Asaph’s musing.
The National Sleep Foundation sponsors the National Sleep Awareness Week to coincides with the country’s return to Daylight Saving Time. Clocks all “spring forward,” and the entire country loses an hour of sleep.
Good timing, you might say.
According to their most recent survey, 48% of the American public do well nightly; a majority of us, however, do not. If the poll is accurate, more than half of us are up late, most of us musing, maybe, like Asaph, unable to sleep because, like the mythical princess, we bothered by some proverbial pea.
Edgar Allen Poe used to claim his strange visions emerged in that somnambulant state between sleep and consciousness, if we can believe him. But I’m sure that it’s not ghastly visions that kept Asaph awake, nor the fact that he took too much work home. As far as we know, he didn’t have a bad marriage, lousy cash flow, or troubled kids. All we know is, oddly enough, he mused; and that musing felt like too much hot salsa in his soul.
Psalm 77 is not for sissies, as they say. It’s really very dark; and I’m not doing him or the song credit by being silly about it—dog snoots, mattress peas, and Poe’s guillotine visions. Asaph claims he sat on his bed all night long, hands raised as if to receive a blessing that never came—nothing funny about that. But then, perhaps if you can’t sleep, one way of steeling yourself against anxiety is laughter, the best medicine.
Before he’s finished, Asaph will turn Psalm 77 into a praise song, but before we stumble into the light we’ve got to traverse the dark night of the soul, where sleep is a blessing that simply doesn’t arrive.
I know I’ve said it before, but here once again—this time in Asaph’s sleeplessness—the blessing of holy scripture arrives as fully from God’s grace as it does in the conviction we get from reading the poor guy, the determination, thank goodness, that we aren’t alone in our restlessness. Even psalmists couldn’t sleep.
As the survey says, too many of us likely spend too much anxious time, like Asaph, musing.