First animals contemplate evidence of the new arrivals in their land.
The first Australians have been conscious of and connected to the land in much stronger and deeper ways than more recent arrivals can comprehend. Their livelihood was far more intimately bound up with their natural environment. Features in their traditional territorial landscapes have longstanding narrative and spiritual importance.
Somehow, this atmosphere permeates Psalm 85, declaring that “truth springs up from the earth”. (11) Justice is associated with the very heart of the creation. For further comment on this theme see a previous post in December 2014.
The first verses speak of restoration and forgiveness; but these blessings are anchored in this context of the land:
… that God’s glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. (10, 11)
Justice, which throughout the Psalter is seen as a cornerstone of the original creation plan, again receives emphasis in imagery of the journey of life:
‘Justice goes before God, and peace is a road for God’s feet.’ (13)
Palestrina, Lassus and others employed such mellifluous verses for five-part settings for the Offertory during Advent or other liturgical uses. Here is an example from verses 2-3 by Palestrina.
Incipit to Psalm 85 extract for the Offertory, Advent III
Readers familiar with the BCP texts will recognise this from verse 7, used by Lassus for Advent II:
Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam, et salutare tuum da nobis. / Shew us thy mercy, O Lord: and grant us thy salvation.
In more modern sources:
Everett in his notes in TEP draws attention to those important images of righteousness and peace quoted above; however he chooses verse 7, the prayer for mercy, as his refrain.
No 45 in TiS would be a good choice; easy response, simple chords, interesting harmonies for SATB in the verses. However, it does not quite cover the lectionary readings and the inclusion of verses 1 and 2 is advisable to set the scene.
PFAS 86B is the lovely Taizé chorus Dona nobis pacem, adorned with a lilting rendition of the verse phrases in a cantor’s descant over the refrain ostinato. This is very effective.
Refrain and tone will be sung locally to a tune by the author that has become known as the South Woden communion chant with variations:
Psalm 80 by Asaph is a cry for restoration by the ‘Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock’. (1) As strife continues all around, the singer seeks a more peaceable zone, perhaps by the still waters and safe pastures of other familiar psalms.
Asaph, as usual, had a historical situation in mind; but the psalm translates well in today’s troubled times, as does the inbuilt antiphon in verses 3, 7 and 19:
Restore us again, let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Psalm 100 immediately conjures up the name ‘Old Hundredth’, All people that on earth do dwell, to a stately old tune drawn from the Genevan Psalter. Words and music are both from the 16th century and without refrain, so while it may be an old favourite for some, not a first choice.
Further comment on the Old Hundredth can be read in the 26 November 2014 post on Psalm 100 for that occasion. Read also notes on a fine four-part setting by Josquin des Prez that we sang three years ago.
And while dipping into that 16th century era of Josquin, other settings rather more in the Genevan style of the Old Hundredth may be found by John Dowland, W Parsons in Day’s Musical Psalter of 1563, and this one from the 1551 Ainsworth Psalter:
The Old Hundredth appears in our ‘Red book’ TiS at 59.
A more modern setting on the next page, TiS 60, would be a fine choice if a cantor is available to interpret the verses, only in the music edition. Other options were listed in the relevant Crystal Ball entry.
Psalm 123 is a song of ascent. These short and hopeful songs, sometimes called degrees or Graduals, are grouped as Psalms 120 to 134. The songs of ascent have a particular fascination. They have a message and it’s economical. They challenge. This one, with only four verses, is short and bitter-sweet. Isaac Everett says of this psalm:1
The thing I love about the psalms of ascent is that they are so simple and short, yet they say everything they need to say.
Two themes are mingled: the psalmist declares (i) trust in divine love and protection, while (ii) hoping for mercy and relief from injustice from the ‘indolent rich’ and proud. (4) Unfortunately, progress against oppression is often slow. Ascent towards justice is not straight-forward or easy. Climbers are motivated by hope and belief that the effort will be worthwhile. Often it’s a long drag.
So the psalm could just as well have been written for today’s inequalities; it uses the image of looking faithfully to a benevolent authority, seeking a time when the dominance of the proud and the rich might be at least ameliorated, if not completely countered. ‘We have had more than enough of contempt’ (3) from those who should be statesmen and leaders.
Musical settings of Psalm 123, perhaps due to its brevity, are relatively few. Together in Song skips this one; there are a couple of early settings by Palestrina and Hassler that are beyond our reach; and the Genevan and similar psalters have hymns rather than responsorials. However, some regular sources include nice congregational refrains:
TEP offers the penitential theme, ‘Have mercy on us’, with simple tune and chords
Linnea Good in a nice SATB setting concentrates on the single phrase, ‘To you I lift up my eyes’, from verse 1.
David Haas in PFAS takes a hopeful view: Our eyes rest on you, awaiting your kindness.
‘With upright heart God tended them, guided them.’ (72)
This long psalm of Asaph in 72 verses covers many of the high points in the Torah, including the plagues and the exodus, subsequent trials and the calling of King David, great tales also to be found in Psalm 114 and elsewhere. Psalm 78 is a plea, a promise and a pledge to tell the old, old stories — for those who went before us, for ourselves, and for those who will follow…
Stories of old; even better when sung
But wait, I wrote all this and more in a post just recently, so go there to read the rest. This saves space and effort for the web-master; however a close inspection shows that this psalm reading selects different verses. So while it’s close, TiS 41 sung on 1 October does not quite cover the territory. Near enough for the average thematic leader but strictly, the reading is verses 1-7; again, review the other choices suggested in that earlier post>.
Here is the chosen refrain and verse tune for this week at South Woden:
Worship and song leaders may also be enticed by the alternative readings this week from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book which is not universally accepted as part of the canon. This nice passage could be sung by women to good effect.
Why the quote at the outset from that last verse 72? Here is another reminder of the strong thread of divine justice and goodness that runs through both the Psalter and the stories of old.
‘Let those who are wise consider the steadfast love of God’ (43)
This first song in the last book of the psalms recalls the gathering in from all points of the compass of a fragmented and wandering people, hungry and thirsty’. They gain safety under the ‘steadfast love’ of the divine hand. The catalyst may originally have been the deliverance of the Israelites from exile. People are displaced and look for homes
gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town (3, 4)
This picture remains sharply relevant to the present days of displaced persons, fragmented and suffering families and even tribes seeking a refuge in troubled places of the world. Steadfast love and mercy are much needed against rising fears and harsh responses. The song goes on to enumerate other crises, storms at sea and sickness, in which comforting divine love is to be found and acknowledged in praise.
That evocative phrase ‘Those who go down to the sea in boats’ in verse 23 inspired Henry Purcell to write a motet on those middle verses. A few of the usual composers like Ravenscroft and Lassus also appear in the listings, though none seem quite right for the attention of small groups. A short piece on the first two verses by Paschal de L’Estocart published 1583 may suit a quartet, although the original calls for a countertenor:
Suitable refrains in the normal sources seem to have been discouraged by the infrequent appearance of this and the two succeeding psalms in the Lectionary. Fortunately, Isaac Everett in TEP provides an interesting three-verse, three-part setting that is thoughtful and fun to sing with a little practice. This excellent trio refrain is repeated in PFAS 107C. (If accompanying the singing with guitar, the chords in TEP will be found to differ slightly from the PFAS piano accompaniment. The former reflects the B dominant seventh tonalities of the lead voice part, while the piano takes that accidental as a sus 4 in a passing sub-dominant E. Either works well.)
Marty Haugen’s apposite and enjoyable Consider the steadfast love of God (43) is a simpler alternative in The New Century Hymnal.