Psalm 84

Springs in the Desert
Gwen Gotsch

Read Psalm 84

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
The early rain also covers it with pools. Psalm 84:5-6

The verses above are not the most frequently quoted verses from Psalm 84. Portions of the psalm have been set to music by composers from Bach to Brahms and many others that came before and after those German masters. The melodies play in my mind’s ear as I read the psalm — until I get to verses 5 and 6 and Baca, a non-musical name for a place I’d never heard of. A search on Google Maps turned up a variety store in Poland and various acronyms for Bay Area businesses in San Francisco. There were no pins dropped in Palestine along roads leading to the temple in Jerusalem. 

Context suggests that the valley of Baca was an arid place, where the ground was hard and there was little or no relief from the glare of the sun. We do not travel these kinds of landscapes on foot in the 21st century, but we know them metaphorically in our hearts and even physically in our bodies – stretches of life where all you can do is keep going, despite discomfort, exposure, or numbing monotony. 

Yet, says the psalmist, those “in whose heart are the highways to Zion” and who trust in God for strength make Baca “a place of springs.” They revel in the early rain and splash through pools of water. The travelers’ joyful, trusting hearts, looking forward to an encounter with God in the temple, transform the world around them. In Baca there is drinkable water from good wells and soil nourished by rain to grow food.

The music that I can’t help but hear behind Psalm 84 — the soaring melodies of Brahms’ German Requiem, the trumpets and drums of Bach’s “God the Lord Is a Sun and Shield” cantata — is transformative for me. Singing it releases tension from a tired body and refreshes my stressed-out soul. The music is a path into the “courts of the Lord” where the dry valley of Baca becomes a place of springs, for me and, I pray, for those I live to love and serve. 

Lord, fill me with the loveliness of your dwelling place and the sunshine of your presence. Shield me from threats and dangers and help me bring your light and life to others. Amen.

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