But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Then we shall not turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call upon your name!
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
When I was about 5 years old, in the summer of 1986, I sat with my dad in the living room of our third floor, unairconditioned apartment on Maverick Street in East Boston. He walked over to our record player and thumbed through a collection of albums he had carefully organized on a rack on the living room floor. He played me some of his favorite records, some of which I liked, others of which puzzled me. I especially liked his Springsteen records. I could feel an intensity and earnestness that I would only later understand was driven by his commitment to exploring the tension between communal life and individual freedom.
Technology has pushed us out of communal spaces into ever more private ones. The shared living room stereo system with wall-to-ceiling speakers perfect for full-family enjoyment (or groaning) became the iPhone with a pair of Beats to help teens “keep down that racket.” The movie theater with a whole audience of viewers became the family room television, which has now transformed into Netflix on a tablet with the aforementioned pair of Beats. Four people in the same room now inhabit entirely different worlds. On top of all that, social media curates content for us through complex algorithms that, in the end, do little more than match you and me with companies selling us Metamucil or yoga pants or sandals with surgical precision.
We are now in the midst of, perhaps, a fourth wave of a global trauma. It has affected different people, different cultures, different countries in vastly different ways. In the early stages of the pandemic, we all retreated to those private spaces we’ve been inhabiting more closely. Social distancing. Masking. Our rugged individualism has experienced a communal trauma.
The speakers of Psalm 80 offer a communal lament in an effort to find comfort in a community reckoning with an irretrievable loss. They don’t know what to do or where to turn, when we experience something beyond our control, we turn to the Lord. When God’s hand is on us, we can succeed in what we do. God makes us strong enough to bring our community back to life.
As 2021 hurtles to a close, I find myself praying that we can find some communal life: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
Dr. Stephen Maiullo is an associate professor of classics and chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Hope College.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.