03 May 2022

A promise of summer on
a walk to Old Stratford

Old Stratford is just north of Stony Stratford … houses lining London Road or Watling Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

It was a bank holiday weekend, marking May Day. But the promise of summer sunshine also seemed to mark the impending transition from Spring to Summer.

In the afternoon sunshine early one afternoon this weekend, two of us walked from Stony Stratford out along the route of the old Watling Street, crossed the Great River Ouse from Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire, and strolled into the neighbouring village of Old Stratford.

Old Stratford is a much older place than Stony Stratford. The village lies immediately north of where the Watling Street crossed the River Great Ouse; just south of this crossing point is the town of Stony Stratford in Milton Keynes.

The old Roman road of Watling Street runs through the middle of the village, and the ‘Stratford’ part of the village name is Anglo-Saxon in origin, meaning the ‘ford on the Roman road.’ In later years, the ford was replaced by a causeway and stone bridge.

Old Stratford survived independently of Stony Stratford to the south, and many fine houses dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, and one or two former coaching inns, line the east side of London Road, which is part of the old Watling Street.

Kingston House, one of the many fine period houses on the east side of London Road in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The ‘Stony Stratford Hoard,’ now in the British Museum, was probably found in 1789, near Passenham in the parish of Old Stratford, across the River Ouse from Stony Stratford. It is not known where it originally came from or how it got there. Even the location where it was found is now the subject of speculation as the only recorded information is ‘Windmill Field.’

The Buckingham arm of the Grand Union Canal once passed through the village, but it has been disused since 1964. The name of Wharf Lane is a reminder of the importance of the canal in the life of Old Stratford, and there are signs of the path of the old canal in many places in the village.

Today, the combined population of Old Stratford and neighbouring Passenham is about 2,000, and they form the civil parish of Stony Stratford with its own parish council, all within the area of West Northamptonshire Council. It has a primary school, a public house, some shops. But there are few local facilities and people in Old Stratford rely on neighbouring Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes for a broader range of shops and other professional needs.

We caught a glimpse of life in past times as we strolled along Wharf Lane, before walking back into Stony Stratford, and enjoying the first glasses of Pimms of the year in the Cock on Stony Stratford’s High Street.

Wharf Lane offers a glimpse of life in past times in Old Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
3 May 2022 (Psalm 69)

‘To the leader: according to Lilies. Of David’ (the superscription in Psalm 69) … the Lily Prince in a fresco in the Minoan palace in Knossos in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have a medical appointment early this morning (3 May 2022) as a follow-up to my stroke a few weeks ago. But, before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 69:

Psalm 69 is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, Salvum me fac Deus. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and in the Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 68.

This Psalm speaks of exile, so it is to be accompanied on the shoshanim or roses – the NRSVA says lilies. The symbolism is that Israel is like a rose, but the trials of exile are like thorns.

David asks God for salvation from troubles that reach the soul like deep water up to one’s neck. David cries for help until he reaches the point of exhaustion and his voice goes hoarse. He strains his eyes scanning the horizon for help, but he sees none.

Most Christian commentaries cannot comfortably place the events in Psalm 69 in the life of King David. Many say this Psalm contains prophecies about Christ, his rejection by his family, and even that he was given vinegar to drink on the cross. But few refer to the traditional Jewish interpretations that Psalm 69 was written during David’s youth.

These traditional Jewish interpretations say Psalm 69 is full of pain, rejection, and hardship because David was an outcast among his family.

They say David grew up in a family in which he was despised, rejected, shunned, and outcast. He was treated with scorn and derision (Psalm 69: 7-8). The community followed the example of the family, and assumed that David was full of sin and guilt (Psalm 69: 11-12). If something turned up missing, they believed he stole it, and forced him to replace it (Psalm 69: 4). He was often the object of jokes and pranks, filling his plate with gall and his cup with vinegar (Psalm 69: 20-21).

If this is true, it somewhat explains why Jesse did not have David present when the Prophet Samuel came to choose a man to be God’s anointed king (see I Samuel 16: 1-13), and why his oldest brother Eliab reacted when David later showed up at the Israelite camp when they were being mocked by Goliath (I Samuel 17: 28).

The traditional Jewish answer to why David’s family rejected him is that they all thought that David’s mother had committed adultery and borne him out of wedlock. They thought he was a bastard – the word ‘stranger’ in verse 8 has the same Hebrew root as muzar, meaning ‘bastard.’

David’s father, Jesse, was the son of Obed, who was the son of Boaz, who married Ruth, the Moabite woman. Jewish traditional law explicitly forbade Hebrew women from marrying Moabite men because of how the Moabites treated the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert after fleeing Egypt. But the law was unclear about whether a Hebrew man could marry a Moabite woman. Boaz believed the law allowed such a marriage, and so he married Ruth.

However, according to the Midrash, Boaz died on the night he and Ruth were married (Midrash Zuta Ruth 4). Many believed his death proved that God had condemned Boaz’s marriage to Ruth, and had punished him. And yet, after this one night, Ruth conceived and gave birth to Obed.

Obed was regarded as illegitimately born, as was his own son Jesse. Nevertheless, both of these men laboured hard in learning the Torah and loving God. Their lives helped convince others that although Boaz had sinned, they were accepted by God as part of the covenant community.

Jesse married a Jewish girl, Nizbeth (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 91a). After Jesse had been married for many years, had fathered seven sons with Nizbeth, and had gained honour as a righteous man and spiritual leader, he began to doubt whether his line and seed were permanently polluted by his Moabite blood. It was at this point that he resolved to cease all sexual relations with Nizbeth. He did this out of love for her, because she, as a pure Israelite, would be sinning to be married to someone who was of impure Moabite ancestry.

Furthermore, Jesse began to doubt the legitimacy of his seven sons. If he was impure, then his children were illegitimate and impure as well. So, wanting a legitimate heir, Jesse came up with a plan to have a son in the same way that his forefather Abraham had done: through relations with his wife’s Canaanite maidservant.

Whether Jesse was viewed by God as a true Israelite or just as a Moabite convert to Judaism, the law allowed him to marry a female convert to Judaism. If they had a son, he would be recognised as a legitimate heir, thus securing Jesse’s family line.

When the Canaanite woman heard of this plan, she did not want to take part, for she loved Nizbeth, and had seen the pain that she had gone through by being separated from her husband for many years. She told Nizbeth about Jesse’s plan, and they decided to do what Laban had done with Leah and Rachel. On the night that Jesse was to have intimate relations with the Canaanite maidservant, she switched places with Nizbeth. Nizbeth conceived that night, and Jesse remained ignorant of what had taken place.

Several months later, Nizbeth began to show that she was pregnant, and Jesse and her seven sons believed that she had committed adultery. The sons wanted to kill their adulterous mother by stoning her and her illegitimate baby. But out of love for his wife, Jesse intervened. Nizbeth did not reveal to her husband that the child was his, for she did not want to embarrass him by revealing the truth of what had happened. Instead, she chose to bear the shame of their son, much as her Tamar was prepared to be burned rather than bring public shame upon Judah, her father-in-law and the father of her child (see Genesis 38: 24-25).

David grew up in a family in which he was despised, rejected, shunned and outcast, as described in Psalm 69. He was treated with scorn and derision. The community followed the example of the family, and assumed that David was full of sin and guilt. If something turned up missing, they believed he stole it, and forced him to replace it. He was often the object of jokes and pranks, filling his plate with gall and his cup with vinegar.

It was said that all the great qualities of Boaz were to be found in Jesse and his seven sons, while all the despicable traits of Ruth the Moabite were concentrated in David. The tradition is that this is also why David’s family forced David to be the shepherd in the fields by himself … they were hoping a bear or lion might kill him.

This may also help explain why later in life, when David was fleeing from a murderous Saul, David asked the King of Moab to harbour his mother and father (I Samuel 22: 3-4).

Some years later, when David became King of Israel, he slaughtered two-thirds of the Moabite army. According to Jewish tradition, this was because after David left his three family members under the protection of the King of Moab, the King killed David’s father and mother, but left his brother alive (see II Samuel 8: 2).

Indeed, this may also explain why David, when he was confessing his own adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, he says ‘In sin my mother conceived me …’ (see Psalm 51: 5).

‘I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me’ (Psalm 69: 2) … winter floods in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 69 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to Lilies. Of David.

1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
my enemies who accuse me falsely.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6 Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me,
O Lord God of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonoured because of me,
O God of Israel.
7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.

9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I humbled my soul with fasting,
they insulted me for doing so.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help 14 rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress – make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free because of my enemies.

19 You know the insults I receive,
and my shame and dishonour;
my foes are all known to you.
20 Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

22 Let their table be a trap for them,
a snare for their allies.
23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
24 Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be a desolation;
let no one live in their tents.
26 For they persecute those whom you have struck down,
and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
27 Add guilt to their guilt;
may they have no acquittal from you.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
29 But I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.

30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
36 the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall live in it.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Truth Tellers.’ It was introduced on Sunday morning by Steve Cox, Chair of Christians in the Media.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (3 May 2022, World Press Freedom Day) invites us to pray:

We pray for journalists and all who work in the media. May we work to protect press freedom across the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org