‘My tears have been food for me day and night’ (Psalm 42:3)—the psalmist’s surprising image of being fed by tears inspires this visual midrash (imaginative scriptural commentary in Jewish tradition). The twin architectural panels on the once conjoined Psalms 42–43 follow designs Diane Palley originally developed in the Jewish folk-art medium of papercut.
In the first panel, fructifying rain shaped like tears falls to earth. In response, the terraced hills yield the legendary seven fruits of the land of Israel: figs, grapes, dates, pomegranates, olives, wheat, and barley. Adapting that biblical and Jewish tradition for a Christian worship space, Palley frames this panel with the growth cycles of wheat and grapes, the elements of the Eucharist.
The figure of the deer is highlighted by converging lines, where the ridge of hills meets the billowing waters. Head down, it approaches a stream filled with eighteen fish, representing the most important prayer of the synagogue, the Shmoneh Esrei (‘eighteen’), which praises God in a lengthy series of blessings. In this context the fish symbol is deliberately ambiguous; for Christian worshippers it may recall the acrostic of one of the earliest Greek affirmations of faith: ICHTHYS: Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour).
Following the fish down the turbulent stream, the eye moves to the strong affirmation of hope in God that is the psalm’s refrain (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5). In the second panel, three fish—a reference to the Trinity—swim in a now-calm stream through the fertile land. The visual movement is upward, to David’s harp (symbolizing praise), which is framed by wheat and grapes, blooming roses (a transcultural symbol of divine love), a crown, and the rising sun: ‘They will bring me to your holy mountain…’ (43:3). Praise persisting through tribulation leads to life in abundance. Hence the composition is framed by the growth cycle of the many-seeded pomegranate, a biblical symbol for God’s gift of life (and, for Christians, of resurrection).
42As a hart longs
for flowing streams,
so longs my soul
for thee, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
4These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6and my God.
My soul is cast down within me,
therefore I remember thee
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows
have gone over me.
8By day the Lord commands his steadfast love;
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9I say to God, my rock:
“Why hast thou forgotten me?
Why go I mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
11Why are you cast down, O my soul,
my help and my God.
43Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from deceitful and unjust men
2For thou art the God in whom I take refuge;
why hast thou cast me off?
because of the oppression of the enemy?
3Oh send out thy light and thy truth;
let them lead me,
let them bring me to thy holy hill
and to thy dwelling!
4Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise thee with the lyre,
O God, my God.