Psalm 42-43 by Diane Palley

Diane Palley

Psalm 42–43, 2005, Silkscreened and sandblasted glass panels, 121.92 x 213.36 cm, Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina, © Diane Palley

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

From Tears to Praise

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

‘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).

Read next commentary