Sicut Cervus – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
As the deer long for the springs of water,
so my soul longs for you, oh God.
This piece is one of the true gems of Choral Renaissance Music, and really choral music as a whole. It is likely one of the most performed pieces in the repertoire, and a piece that is likely so popular due to its combination of accessibility and complexity. It is a piece presented by both high school students and professional musicians alike, and both ensembles are edified by its performance.
The image of a deer panting for water is one that is understood in a very basic way to us as humans, because we, like them, need water to live. It’s pretty simple. The queen of England needs water to live, and so do I. Though she may drink Evian and I drink tap water, the water she drinks and the water I drink both do the same thing.
Often, pastors will add the element of the deer being “prey” and having to avoid being eaten. The idea being that the deer is so exhausted from avoiding the predators (read: pitfalls of life, sin, temptation, evil, fill in the blank) and that is why it pants.
This perspective is not inherently wrong. Clearly David was feeling this way when he wrote it. As the Psalmist continues, he asks “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” three times. He is spiritually exhausted. The psalms are absolutely packed with allusions to avoiding enemies, asking protection, and begging for deliverance from some ill, societal or otherwise.
But what are we to do with this psalm if we are….doing alright?
The truth is, in America, North Carolina, Raleigh right now, Christians are not persecuted against in the same way David is speaking of. We’re doing alright.
That’s why I think the important part of this passage lies not in why the deer pants, or how hard the deer was running – it lies in the water itself.
We don’t need God in response to the trials and tribulations of life.
Our spirit needs God like our body needs water.
And though we can be somewhat satiated by the Dr. Peppers and Starbucks of the world (because water IS a part of every liquid, after all…), nothing quenches like the pure water of Christ.
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church