Psalm 63, 28 Feb 2016

Moses strikes the rock, Arthur Boyd

Moses strikes the rock, by Arthur Boyd

Just like last week, Psalm 63 for Lent 3 holds familiar words and imagery, water this time rather than light:

You are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)

The preceding lectionary reading from the Old Testament tells us it’s all free and free for all:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! (Is. 55:1)

And just in case we missed the point, the NT epistle clarifies:

Our ancestors … drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (I Cor. 10:1, 4)

It’s interesting that the title of this psalms is ‘For David when he was in the wilderness’.


Henry Purcell‘s lovely anthem Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts, still ringing in our ears from last week (we shall hear it sung again by our male voice quartet on Lent 5) reminds us that he also wrote a setting for Psalm 63 titled O God thou art my God. Whereas last week’s short piece was homophonic, syllables all sung together by the four parts, this longer piece starts that way but then becomes more contrapuntal.  Hassler also wrote a nice setting for six voices a century earlier.

Still waters

Simplicity, shelter, silence

The Carers Group leads the worship with their usual accessible and thoughtful approach. This is a great psalm for them as they unobtrusively bring cool water to our people in the deserts of suffering.

No striking of rocks is involved; just listening (theme word this week) for the the cry of the dry and the sound of water. Footprints progress. The ritual of the stones continues, accompanied by that alto flute pretending to be Gabriel’s oboe.

Some options:

  • Psalms for all seasons only has one responsive setting — nice, the refrain being a little longer than our usual practice.
  • TiS has a congregational hymn rather than a responsive song.
  • Isaac Everett, commenting that the psalm ‘ … reflects a very physical, embodied and sensual sort of spirituality’, offers a simple tune in E minor.

Today we assemble a small group to support the carers by singing a simple version of our ‘Communion chant’, one that we used sometimes for the first Sunday of the month. The refrain is simple on mi-re-doh:

Ps63 SWCC cantor.doc

My soul thirsts for God, the living God.

Psalm 80, 20 Dec 15

With the Song of Mary as the canticle of the week and Christmas carols in the air, Psalm 80 is not likely to be much heard. Still, it’s worth a look for several reasons.IMG_0712

The modern reader might be mystified by the historical references that come up early in the song; you might dig Israel and Joseph but why do Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh get a mention? Doesn’t matter, leave the north and south kingdoms and such to the expositors. The message of the first few verses is pretty plain:

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel … Restore us; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (verses 1, 3)

This follows a nice throw-away line in the preceding reading from Micah, using that same image in the psalm of the shepherd feeding the flock:

He shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5:5)

Shepherd in Bruges

They really did follow him

Both writers trust that preservation from a raft of trials and tribulations is assured, and that it may be both individual and collective. They both use another archaic reference, that of the shepherd and flock.

It’s often said that this recurring biblical idea has lost its punch in modern urban life, especially in this wide brown land. Maybe, but coming across a couple of modern shepherds in a busy Belgian market street complete with children’s play castle earlier this year, the action was instantly recognisable. Even if you had never seen it before, the guiding and caring role was evident.

Looking again at the psalm, verse 3 quoted above appears again verbatim in verse 7. The lectionary reading stops there but the assiduous reader will find that, after a change of imagery to the vineyard, that same line returns in the final verse 19. This is clear internal evidence that the poet had a responsorial plan in mind from the beginning. So it’s easy to pick a line to use as a response. It’s the one used in several of our usual sources.

Complete with black sheep

Complete with black sheep, this time in Turkey. The shepherd was nearby dozing under a tree.

Psalm 147, 8 Feb 15

Girl with lyre, Adolf von Hildebrand, c.1910. Alte National Gallery Berlin

Lyraspielendes Mädchen (Girl playing lyre), Adolf von Hildebrand, c.1910. Alte Nationalgallerie, Berlin

This psalm of praise calls us to be happy in the creation and this evidence of divine caring. Sure enough, we are to pull out our lyres again in order to sing those praises (v.7). Bring yours on Sunday.

Recalling the Hospitals Chaplain’s words last week, almost in continuity the Psalm reminds us:

God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds (v. 3)

Either in unnervingly sudden shifts of focus, or perhaps in a visionary sweep of the universe, the psalm alternates between the lowest and the highest, the present day to the distant past; reassurance of the bruised and outcast — who are urged to ‘count your blessings and name them one by one’ as the old song would have it — to wonder at counting the stars and naming them one by one.

God determines the number of the stars; and gives to all of them their names. (vv 3, 4)


Tomas Luis de Victoria‘s setting of this psalm would be appropriate if singers were available. Laude Ierusalem, Salmo de Vísperas No. 6 is a series of short sections that, in the vespers service, would be be sung as antiphons between readings or prayers. Outside the vespers context it could be used to inspirational effect as incidental music.

This Victoria motet is in Latin of course: ‘Lauda Deum tuum Sion’. Further, Psalm 147 in the old Vulgate numbering system begins with verse 12. The lectionary selection (vv.1 – 11) in an English setting is preferred.

'Starry Night' by V van Gogh. Wikimedia commons

‘Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh. Wikimedia commons

Together in Song No 92 covers most of the set verses and, being by John Bell, is a pretty sound. However, relishing that idea of naming each of the myriad stars (and in the interests of brevity), the planned refrain is an arrangement of an early composition by Isaac Everett in The emergent psalter.

Who has not stood outside on a clear night — on a balcony, camping in the bush away from city lights, or on the deck of a boat anchored in a quiet havenAt anchor — and wondered at the constellations? This refrain reaches towards that feeling:

Jehovah with immeasurable wisdom calls each star by name

Psalm 17, 3 Aug 14

Wet cobbles at night, WeimarPsalm 17 (click here for the text) this week looks like a continuation of recent lectionary readings. David, for it is attributed to him, asks for purity and protection.

Having heard recently from Psalm 119:105 about the lamp to the feet and the light for the path, David runs up a variation on the theme :

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; in your paths my feet shall not stumble. (v.5)

A warm climax in the middle of the psalm is a sense of being cherished. It’s not just a dramatic hand-wringing for security from all sorts nasties — wicked enemies, the wealthy and greedy, even lions and such marauders get a mention. It’s much more personal and rich:

Apple of your eyeKeep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings (v.8)

By the way, Proverbs 7:2 links these two verses and asks us to keep God’s word as the apple of our eye.


Three things caught my eye about Isaac Everett’s refrain in The emergent psalter.

  • First, he chose to use the phrases ‘apple of your eye’ and ‘shadow of your wings’; these are just the sort of classic expressions that make the poetry of the psalms so meaningful, so memorable.
  • Secondly, I liked the structure of this little composition. Based on a very simple two-chord structure, the tune, like the One Note Samba, is all on one note. It’s backed by a second voice part which is just as plain but introduces a tiny element of cadence. The first voice singing C is higher than I usually set for a congregational response; it is Sunday morning after all.  Lower voices can sing the second part.
  • Then thirdly, after the first phrase there’s an instrumental filler. It’s a family worship Sunday so I could imagine children having fun here with recorders and percussion.*

So I jumped at this option — then discovered that the lectionary reading desists at verse 7, one stop short of those golden phrases. Bah! We’re still doing it. Free gift, gratis, for nothing, y compris. Anyway, I just had to add in verse 8 to round it up to 4+4.

Statue at Sans Souci palace, Potsdam DEWomen singers will lead this week, adding a home-grown tune for the verses with guitar, paraphrased to be more accessible for young participants in a family service.

Children are invited to bring a recorder or other instrument to contribute that instrumental section — making a joyful noise. We shall have a practice at 4pm Saturday. I wonder if they have come across those golden phrases and learned to cherish them yet?

Coming up next week, 10 August: Lassus à 5. Can’t wait. Sell tickets now!

* OK there’s a fourth reason but it’s for the musos.

Continue reading

Psalm 68, 1 June 2014

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness The merry month of May, with its beautiful autumn leaves and the busy international music festival, departs. Only three weeks to the shortest day of the year when Keith, returning from the wilds of Celtic islands in another hemisphere, will lead a worship service at South Woden at the Winter Solstice. But for this Sunday, it’s the first ten then the last four verses of Psalm 68.

The psalm

Between bookends at beginning and end of this psalm, consisting of verses of praise for divine power and ubiquity, comes a recitation of providence and caring for the people over the centuries:

Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in a holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in, and leads out the prisoners to prosperity. (vv. 5 and 6)

IMG_3012The psalmist in the ‘bookends’ calls for the great kingdoms of the earth, their flags proudly flying in the national capitals of the world, to recognise the divine supremacy of ‘the rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens’ and invites us to lift songs of thanks and praise.

It’s hard not to link this grand call with verses like those quoted above emphasising care for the needy (v.10), the homeless and the poor who – as that quintessential observer of human nature Jesus observed (Mark 14:7) – regrettably are always with us.

So how does a government, or political or religious group that aspires to govern, honour that call and at the same time deny the homeless, refugee and persecuted; withdraw education and basic rights of freedom to women and girls; or weaken the social safety-net and leave these things to market forces? Our prayer is surely to gain the ideal of governance in the final verse:

Ascribe power to God … whose strength is in the skies. Awesome is the divine, who gives power to the people. (vv. 34, 35)


Each week we try to find the tune and antiphonal response that fits the season and the sense and message of the readings. Each month we try to achieve a balance of styles and participation as well, such as the male voice group (thank you for a fine rendition of Psalm 66 last Sunday) and something in which our children can contribute their enthusiasm and voices.

On 1 June, we sing the verses answered by a people’s refrain:Ps68 Antiphon Tune 1Jun14

Sing to God O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God who rides the ancient skies above. (vv 32-33)

The tune is a simple ascending and descending major scale that we shall sing as a round against a simple repetitive harmonic pattern. The congregation sings two parts, part 2 starting at bar 2, while the children repeat just the first phrase in a simpler and more easily learned part.

And for a little more … Continue reading

Psalm 116, 2 and 4 May 14

Just add a century from No 16 last week.  Skipping over a whole hundred psalms! Amazing – and there are 50 more if you do not count that old No 151. Such a rich treasury of imagery, inspiration, prayer, encouragement and song.

ShadowPsalm 116, like 30 and others, is a paean of thanks for deliverance from the power of darkness and, in particular in this psalm depending on the translation, the hold, anguish or entangling cords of the grave.

So the psalmist resolves to walk in the divine presence in the land of the living (v.9) – a fine suggestion.

The second half of the psalm is an act of dedication, so strongly felt that the psalmist’s declarations of trust and invocation are to be made ‘in the presence of all God’s people’, which we shall do in singing this psalm.

The Music, resonating to the awareness of a listening and caring God, is a simple antiphon (PFAS 116D) declaring ‘I love the Lord who has heard my cry’ (v.1).

The land of the living

The land of the living

Verses are sung by two cantors antiphonally to a tone which is close to the response tune.

Singers already have music but call if you wish to join. We celebrate the induction of Presbytery Minister Rev Geoff Wellington on Friday evening at Yarralumla then present the same setting at South Woden on the following Sunday 4 May.



Psalm 119 continued, 23 Feb 14


We thank the carers’ group for leading this worship on 23 February.

The carers work diligently behind the scenes to keep in touch with all our members, to respond to their needs or just to be there in times of stress. We are thankful for their dedication and faithfulness.

The psalm

This week we continue to read Psalm 119, this time the fifth section of 8 verses starting with v. 33. The section last week was marked and started with the first Hebrew letter א (Aleph); this week it is the fifth ה or He (pronounced ‘hey’), often associated with the breath or creativity of God.

The song continues the theme of inviting us to walk in God’s ways. Last week we noted that PFAS says:

The psalm focuses on the decrees, laws, commands, and promises of God.

Pathways of lifeIt depicts life as a walk or journey down a path … it challenges us to treasure and take delight … and it gives us hope.

The psalmist seems to be going further to say that the more we absorb the culture and concepts behind the commandments, the more we will gain ‘understanding’:

Teach me the way of your statutes; give me understanding

This theme is reinforced and extended in the other songs chosen by the Carers this week, such as in the refrain of TiS 630:

The law of Christ can make us free / for love is the fulfilling of the law.

The antiphon

We return to Isaac Everett’s tune for Psalm 119 with different words:

Elevate my understanding ever in my heart keep watch / find my strength in your commandments for your truth is all I’ve sought.

Carers in a bygone era

Those present last Sunday will recognise this easy modal tune and harmony changes. The male voice group leads in bringing a more meditative and calm presentation of this response to fit the theme this week.

Background to psalm, music and listening files were made available on last week’s post >

We look forward to the insights brought to us by our CARERS to this week.