‘Integrity and uprightness preserve me’ (21)
As Year B of the Lectionary closes, the season of Advent opens Year C. Psalm 25 is an appropriate song since it is full of hope and trust in goodness to come under codes of divine justice and guidance.
In Hebrew this in an acrostic psalm, this one conveniently running to 22 verses to suit the Hebrew alphabet of 22 letters. The alphabetical initial capitals are lost in our translations.
The psalmist seems to swing between two states, first soaring then penitential. David laments his failings and seeks forgiveness and comfort in the second half. Here’s the opening verse, from the old BCP translation:
Unto thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul; my God, I have put my trust in thee: O let me not be confounded, neither let mine enemies triumph over me.
And progressing to that very familiar and recurrent prayer in the psalms:
Shew me thy ways, O Lord, and teach me thy paths. Lead me forth in thy truth, and learn me: for thou art the God of my salvation; in thee hath been my hope all the day long. (3, 4)
Recognising the value of seeking truth and humility, the psalmist trusts that youthful transgressions will be forgotten. (7) The psalmist declares that on our journey we should trust an upright God … who instructs defaulters in the way, leads the humble in what is right, and teaches right paths (8, 9)
The many early settings of this psalm include those by Boyce, Lassus, Goudimel (Genevan) and Blow. Composers of any era usually chose to use either the first aspirational or the second penitential section; an impressive total suggests that this psalm was of particular interest and widely loved.
A fresh tune introduced at Woden Valley uses the powerful theme of verses 4 and 5: “Show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide in truth all day long”:
Verses are sung to the same chord sequence shown above but taking a different melodic path. The 6/4 time signature constantly asks the singer whether to interpret the word rhythm in a triple feel 2+2+2=6, or duple time 3+3. Try it out on the refrain and see how it changes the emphasis in the text. (The four-part arrangement, which can not be presented this Sunday due to its rehearsal time impost, contains both rhythms suggesting an underlying hemiola across the parts vertically.)