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Psalms of Exile and Return

A journey in search of inner healing and unity

Keith Hill

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In 587 BCE, King Zedekiah of Judah led his people in rebellion against Babylonian rule. Nebuchadnezzar responded mercilessly. His army sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and deported thousands to Babylon.

These psalms are written from the perspective of one of those exiles. They express his growing unhappiness with life as a slave, his despairing cries for help to his Lord, and his eventual escape into the wilderness. After much struggle he is reunited with his lost beloved, and together they find their way back to Jerusalem.

Inspired by the passionate writings of the ancient Jewish prophets and poets, and in harmony with the Jewish healing tradition of tikkun olam, these poems recount the spiritual journey seekers make as they strive to transcend everyday life, enter their own hurt heart, heal its pain, and experience the wisdom that exists there. It is the story of exiles who, lost and despairing, rediscover themselves in joy.

112 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches / 140 x 216 mm
ISBN Paperback: 9780995120457

"In a time that seems spiritually dry for so many, this book of psalms is water in the desert. They challenge, terrify, comfort, and call us to a deep humanity." — Allan Jones, Dean Emeritus, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

"Keith Hill writes authentically of exile and return, alienation and redemption. He has been there and back, and can be a guide to many. If you are lost and in the dark, this book may just be a candle of illumination." — Rabbi Rami Shapiro, One River Foundation, author of Holy Rascals and Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent


Keith Hill is the award-winning author of The New Mysticism, The God Revolution and Striving To Be Human. This book is one of a series that presents classic spiritual texts reworked to inspire today's seekers.
Sample poems
His captors make a demand

And there I sat, by the waters
of Babylon. I sat and I wept as
I remembered Zion.

Disconsolate, alone, my heart
reached out for death. I hung my harp
on a willow, and I bent my head.

Drunk, they cried, “Sing us a song
of your homeland, sing of how your Lord’s
strength helps you command.”

And I put my head in my hands.
I made no reply. I hid my face from them
so none could hear me cry.

What do they know? Their breath
stinks of their drunkenness. I could never
sing to you in their vile presence.

My Jerusalem! When I think
of her I shiver. If ever I forget her
may my right hand wither.

Yahweh, you remember how
they laughed at your laws? And how they
spat on Jerusalem’s pure walls?

This daughter of Babel’s a whore.
Return her mock. Take her! Crush her! Throw
her children screaming on the rock!

Yahweh, you are my Lord. My song
is for you alone. They will never hear me
sing, never of Zion, my home.

The slave sighs for his beloved

Last night, on my bed, I sought you whom
my heart loves. In the moonlight, insensible,
my heart suffused with blood.

My beloved, you know you are
my only lover. I remember you, for our Lord
gave us to one another.

When I lost you in the desert march,
yes, I wept. My eyes blurred and I stumbled.
My fractured feet bled.

So it was, last night, that desolation
swept my heart. Once again I felt the anguish
of our being far apart.

I rose and walked, I sang to the moon
in the sky. The night watchmen started:
I soothed them with a sigh.

Longing, inspired, I flew high above
Babylon’s streets. I glimpsed a wadi where
sky and horizon meet.

And I thought, there! That is where
my beloved waits! That is the rendezvous
to which I must escape!

Then I sank down onto my bed,
overcome with bliss. And I dreamed, wonderful!
I dreamed I felt your kiss.

He hears a voice calling him

Stock still in the street I halt, heart
held in my hand. Yet what have I to offer?
What do I truly know? Or understand?

Lord, I am not what you made, not what I
yet could be. Though I daily stride the streets,
insignificance fills my deeds.

At noon I stand in darkness, at dusk captivity
spreads its cold. My blanket’s made of maggots,
no knowledge nightly soaks my soul.

Yet that is when I hear it, a call that
penetrates my chest: in a beat I pause, a still
point in Babylon’s reeling unrest.

How far, this call asks, will I
allow my life to fall? Yet how can I change?
I am a numberless slave, no more.

Each day I’m commanded, by voices
harsh yet dumb. They’ve made me hate my life;
no, hate what I’ve become.

I am but a casket of attitudes,
an accident of bones. Should soldiers kill me
today who would care I was gone?

I eat the bread of suffering, drink
the water of distress. Your call cries inside me,
Lord, but what I am remains unsaid.

He ponders the imponderable

Day dies, night comes, through
the sky constellations wheel. Lying beneath them,
I wonder what their patterns reveal.

For who knows his destiny, what fate
has in store? Unseen is tomorrow, unknown
the workings of the law.

I was free, then fell; now I walk
the wilderness. That I would become a shepherd
who would ever have guessed?

Hidden influences play down
into our lives. One walks west, one east:
the reason baffles the mind.

Lord, you plant great longing deep
in each person’s breast. But few feel it, few make
its unravelling their life’s quest.

And those who do seek you, how many
live your way? Too few argue the skeletons
the singing sands have betrayed.

Yahweh, beneath your sky I feel
life’s mystery. Whatever I am, Lord, help me
to fulfil my destiny!

The shepherd reunites with his lover

That night, in my tent, my existence
was transformed. From the darkness stepped
she for whom I was born.

Her feet, with myrrh anointed, walked
without a sound. Her tender eyes grazed mine
as, gently, she sat down.

A mystery she was, more serene
than moonrise: I bathed in her beauty, then
fell into her eyes.

How long did we sit and gaze as
breezes stroked our hair? Did we sit at all?
Or did we rather float on air?

My heart, my soul, my love, we said what
no lip speaks, then, when those lips touched,
fountains flowered in the deep.

Wine and spices flowed from our hearts
across our tongues. Ecstatic, our clothes fell:
naked, two became one.

And there, among the stars, sailed a
single rhapsodic cry. Living, but dead,
in bliss we both expired.

My love! In your presence I found
what life truly means: your eyes, your touch,
your laugh—all else is merely dream.