Complexity of situations, relationships or internal feelings can sometimes create such a tangled web that we are ensnared and immobilised. It would be easier if someone would just sweep in and ditch the unimportant things, whatever they are, and say: “Well, clearly, this is what you should be doing!”
In such times, Psalm 139 has much to say, acknowledging from the outset our essential transparency:
O God, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (verses 1-3)
Attitude and Altitude
The spotlight of divine wisdom, if we can find the switch, helps us see through the tangles of our own or others’ making. How that can happen is a personal matter that no set of rules, certainly not a psalm blog, can describe or prescribe.
Attempting to align our frame of reference, our moral compass or our ethical sensibilities with divine wisdom, the creative spirit of verses 13 to 16 quoted below, is surely a good start.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8, 9)
Easier said than done, of course, but hope springs eternal. This is not formally a ‘psalm of ascent’ but that broad sweeping idea of dreaming on a higher plane is certainly present in stirring language typical of psalm poetry. Our selection (verses 1-6, 13-18) straddles but misses this:
Where can I go from your spirit? … If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (verses 8-10)
… and Alternative Angles
What is not missed out, however, is the imagery of intimacy — pre-natal transparency, ultrasound plus. It’s at once captivating and unsettling:
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret … (vv. 13-15)
Incredible, even allowing for doubts about the original textual meaning and interpretation from various sources. This would have been an appropriate song for the gentle leadership of some of our young women and mothers but circumstances, mostly joyful, have intervened.
The concluding lines draw on this transparency and seek that ‘righteousness’ that’s at the heart of Psalm 1 and also here:
Search me, O God, and know my heart … lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23, 24)
For even more alternative angles on this rich psalm, see also the post on 20 July 2014.
We respond to the verses and in a very short, transparent response from the New century hymnal by Jane Marshall:
Search me O God and know my heart.
All singers welcome as usual, please join in. Short rehearsal Sunday morning.
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Final image: from 6-part music in Recueil de plusieurs messes, Psaumes, motets, Te Deum & c.a. MS dated 1630-1682, Bibliotèque Nationale de France