“Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."
Where do you get ideas?”
It’s not an unusual question. I’m the visiting writer in some school somewhere, I’ve just read a story maybe, and some student wants to know how I come up with stuff because his most oppressive problem in any writing class is “what am I going to write about?”
It’s not a tough question. My stump speech just explains a little of whatever it is I’ve been thinking a ton about.
A couple of years ago in a South Dakota high school, my answer had to do with the Brule Sioux chief Spotted Tail, a man often forgotten because he was the first of the “hostile” chiefs to throw in the towel in the fight against invading white hordes. But the old chief is not just a chicken or a turncoat. He’s more complex than single isisue. I decided to tell the kids about Spotted Tail. To get them there, I needed to bring them back. “Okay,” I said, “name the three most famous South Dakota Native chiefs.”
“Okay,” I said, “name one.”
“Crazy Horse,” some kid says. He’d been to the Black Hills monument. That was it.
Maybe I’m into stuff that’s a footnote to everyone else’s life, but I was flummoxed by the what those South Dakota kids didn't know about their own history.
I don’t blame them—or their teachers. I blame their parents, which is to say all of us, for investing in a culture that puts more emphasis on what happens on American Idol than what happened at Wounded Knee. Colleges and universities are not immune. According to a recent survey, only 29 percent of seniors at the top 55 colleges in the country knew what the term "Reconstruction" means in this country’s history.
In Asaph’s time you wound hunt in vain for a history text. Tales of yore were passed along orally, and that fact must be considered when we follow the trail of Asaph’s tears. What appears to bring him back to life and joy, mid-depression and mid-psalm, is a determination to retell the old stories of God’s abiding love. His appeal, he says, is to the “years of the right hand of God.” He’s determined to walk through our own grand narrative—God’s story.
During the Depression and the Dust Bowl, people here and just west hung tenaciously to Habakkuk 3: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
I swear, I am strengthened simply by knowing that story. That a people without the wherewithal to live could be sustained with a verse or two of scripture that seemed clearly drawn from their own lives helps me through my own hard times—and we all suffer our hard times, as will our children.
Asaph’s peril in the first nine verses of this psalm is real. What pulls him back up into the light, he says, is the story of the “years of the right hand of God.” He will, he says, go over once again the long unblemished record of God’s faithfulness.