I love this, I have a long history of singing it.
I was a cathedral chorister, and we did a gorgeous lush version I’ll link below. I also wrote a pop song version.
The psalmist is in exile and miserable. Longing for God. I remember I wrote my song version at a time when we weren’t happy in our church and we weren’t going much. I really felt the words, played it over and over on piano.
He expresses the longing as a thirst, like a deer desiring a brook. I love that because it’s both necessary and beautiful, the image of serene sensory comfort and deep sustenance.
It has a water theme. Instead of a brook his only sustenance is his own tears.
Then he describes his life events like being plunged beneath a waterfall or a wave breaking over him. Violent water, not sweet sustaining water.
Part of the violence is mockery over being deserted by God and he says ‘deep calls to deep’ which is rich and a bit mysterious.
For me it evokes that Jonah feeling of being plunged beneath the waves and, when all else is stripped away, even hope of survival, the depth of God’s love being there still with you during the moments you think you might drown.
He fondly remembers going to the temple, he would have been bereft to be cut off from it.
The sons of korah, author of the psalm, were temple musicians who memorably sang confusion on their enemies in a great military victory of faith during the reign of Jehoshaphat in chronicles.
But he’s aware it’s the living God, not religion, who quenches spiritual thirst. Still so true, still the one unique thing church can offer – comfortable seating, aircon, live music and friends can be got many places.
The commentator mentioned the contradiction of calling God your rock and saying he’s forgotten you in the one line. That’s the psalm right there, not so much a psalm of doubt so much as how you continue to relate to God out of deep deep misery. It aches with longing and sadness.
Feeling adrift, buffeted, abandoned and drowned by life, deep calls to deep, both anguished questioning and poignant cherishing of God.