12”x12”, 24”x36”, 12”x12”
We escaped like a bird from a hunter's trap. The trap is broken, and we are free! Psalm 124:7
Psalm 124 is known as a song of ascent, a traveling song carolled by ancient pilgrims visiting the Temple of Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem is situated on a hill, so Jews traveling to the city for one of the three main annual festivals would sing these songs on the ascent as they walked the uphill road to the city. These songs would encourage them in the journey, reminding them of who they were and what they believed, even on the uphill road of faith.
Psalm 124 was written to remind the people that their help comes from the Lord. It was an idea worth repeating when the Temple was standing, but perhaps even more poignant when the Temple was destroyed and the people of Israel were dispersed across the earth. The ancient Isrealites being carried off to captivity in Babylon probably sang the song, and it was no doubt sung by some, 3000 years later, en route to Auschwitz. The song ends with an image of birds escaping, freed from the hunters snare. Given the troubled history of the Jewish people, we might well read this as a broken promise, or an ironic image. But help often comes in unexpected places.
In his commentary on Psalm 124, the great theologian Charles Spurgeon reminds us that the image of the freed bird “describes a soul matter.” The Psalmist is not speaking of a physical deliverance, but of something much more profound. The song of ascent was first sung by for pilgrims climbing up to meet God, but Christian story is a song of descents – the story of a God who descended down to meet us. The name Jesus in Hebrew, Yeshua, literally means “Lord help,” but it is a help that subverts our expectations. With Jesus, glory looks like humility, and power looks like subservience – and life ultimately comes through death. Up is down and down is up.
In this artwork I have chosen to depict a kaleidoscope of butterflies as opposed to birds because of their obvious associations with resurrection and rebirth in the Christian tradition. As they/we ascend from the tomb-like cocoon they carry with them the tail of their tethers – a scarlet thread. Like the pilgrims of ancient Israel, we ascend to sing the songs that remind us we are free.