Psalm 36, 17 Jan 16

The wicked are wicked — through and through it seems.

Compared with a couple of weeks ago when I felt that we should have started at the beginning of the psalm not half-way through, this time I don’t lament that we skip the first four verses. They tell us that the wicked are wicked. Big deal — although verse 4 about the wicked ‘thinking up evil on their beds’ is quite nice imagery: ‘Heh heh!’

Mind you, these days in modern writing (let alone the post-modern) you can’t get away with this melodrama where the goodies are pure as the snow and the villains are plain evil and get their comeuppance. Flawed heroes and almost likeable baddies are, more realistically, the norm.

Not for this psalmist. David (“Of David the servant of God” — preface to the psalm) goes on to cherish divine love in no uncertain terms. The lectionary excerpt ignores the baddies at the beginning and the end, like moth-eaten bookends, and just give us the middle verses 5 to 10 about divine love:

  • it reaches to the heavens
  • how priceless it is
  • all people (‘your people’ in some versions – is there a difference?) find refuge
  • in the shadow of your wings
  • feast and abundance
  • drinking from the river of delights

Last week I was unconvinced by such bald statements in Psalm 29. This time it’s about love, so it’s easier for us to spring up to applaud.


Back on that Ps. 29 post again, I also remarked on ‘a paucity of classical settings’. Ps. 36 is in the same boat. In any case, since the baddies are excluded, I think this could do with a bit of energy and swing, or even a hint of rhythm and blues. Too radical?

Our regular books are pretty thin on Psalm 36. TiS skips it altogether and PFAS has only one responsorial — and that’s not burning with the spirit of Otis Redding. Steve Bell, Canadian singer featured on the Styles page (scroll down) sometimes grooves, sometimes more country, but his album on the psalms does not include this one.

The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett; Church Publishing .org
The Emergent Psalter; Church Publishing .org

Isaac Everett‘s refrain in The emergent psalter is suitable; a little long but it repeats a simple phrase; it has strong words – Everett points out the ‘feast’ is the same word as ‘overflows’ in the 23rd psalm; modern feel (but in 3/4), starting on and returning pleasingly to major sevenths in tune and backing chords.

But sometimes, it’s nice to write your own so you can swing it if you feel like it. I’ve used verse 7 for ours this week. Not R&B but it can be sung with a good beat or ballad/folk style. Cantor volunteers for the verses please, SWUC!

Ps36 cantor OL

For a little more on R&B, 

Bill Withers. Image
Bill Withers.

I often enthuse in these pages about scrumptious Renaissance settings; but every now and then you just have to get down. What ever happened to R&B, Soul and Motown in singing the psalms? When  Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and Bill Withers sang (and it wasn’t the psalms) it was with feeling and soul — and we must mention David Bowie this week of course. Their words did not always make sense:

Very superstitious, writings on the wall,  Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall,  …
When you believe in things that you don’t understand,  Then you suffer,  Superstition ain’t the way.

Piano at SmithsBut the music drives. (I once made an arrangement for a capella quartet of Bill Withers’ Ain’t no sunshine combined with a Bach prelude from Book II of The 48. Fun.) In this psalm the words make sense but where is the groove? We have sung the blues and gospel in the past but it’s easier with a band of some sort. We’ll give it a run this Sunday so all singers and instrumentalists most welcome.

Bill Withers image;


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