Psalm 112, 5 Feb 17

Light rises in darkness

Light rises in darkness when justice rules our lives.

During a yacht delivery through the Barrier Reef a while ago, an overnight anchored in a remote cove was a welcome break. A refreshing sleep rocked by the movements of the boat in wind, wave and tide was a perfect precursor to a pre-dawn start. With anchor a-weigh, still dripping salt water and sand, the early light of dawn crept over the outcrops of the uninhabited island that was our silent but comforting host for the night. In such a tale, light and darkness are equally appreciated, necessary and used to advantage. No moral values either negative or positive are attributed.

When metaphorical dimensions arise in literature, darkness usually comes off worst by a country mile. Light is good, dark is evil. So it appears in Psalm 112 at first glance: but the implied moral values are by no means black and white. Light is valued in verse 4 but darkness is not necessarily bad, just limiting. There’s a time to sleep, and a time to pull up anchor. Illumination, as in Psalm 119:105, seems here to be a lamp to the feet and a light to the path of those who seek goodness, day or night. Translations differ. The New International Version is attractive:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

The paraphrase used as antiphon for a setting of Psalm 112 in Together in Song 69 is: “Light rises in darkness when justice rules our lives.” Strongly in its favour is the direct link to justice, a word wielding much more force in a modern context than the jargon of ‘righteousness’. The music for the opening phrase of the response rises step by step, like the sun rising from behind those dark outcrops, preparing for the final call later in the psalm to a life of justice and faith. The verses may be sung freely to the tone in the hymn book, perhaps with guitar accompaniment. A nice variation is to use the tune of the refrain as a tone, varying the pointing as desired.

Using the first line of verse 1, the refrains in both NCH and TEP say: “Happy are those who fear God”. (See remarks on ‘fear’ in the comments on the previous psalm, 111.) PFAS 112B skips fear and selects the second idea, that ‘those who delight in the law of God’ are happy. And while referring back to 111, the comment made there regarding Victoria’s vesper psalms could be repeated verbatim for this psalm, save for the title Beatus vir qui timet Dominum.Ps112 introit Victoria

Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he hath great delight in his commandments. (v.1, BCP)

Psalm 67, 1 May 2016

May Day has relatively recently become a day for the workers. Originally it just celebrated the coming of the northern hemisphere spring, bonfires at the end of April, singing and dancing. Such revelry is somewhat akin to what we have been hearing over several recent psalms — relief from the winter of oppression and conflict, safety after threat, peace after conflict.

Street art, Prague. DancingPsalm 67 also calls for singing and dancing, maypole or not. However, there’s no lamentation here. [No maypole photos either, but I was reminded of a surprise encounter with some street art of an aerial ballet in Prague a few years ago.]

The psalmist calmly calls for blessings and praise:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah (vv. 1-4)

This short psalm (quite reminiscent of the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24ff) is in a mirror structure, beginning and ending with a prayer for blessing. Equity, guidance — and singing —  nestle in the middle, verse 4.

It is surrounded in the lectionary by readings from Acts, John and Revelation, almost as if it is a song of praise offered to all the people mentioned in those tales:

  • Lydia in Philippi listening to Paul
  • The disciples hearing Jesus: “Peace I leave with you”
  • A sick main at the pool in Jerusalem, hoping for and finding healing
  • People in the city of God with its river of life, no need of lamp nor sun


Tallis CanonThe eye-catcher here is Tallis‘s Canon, for ‘meane, countertenor, tenor and bass’, from The Whole Psalter Translated by Archbishop Parker, 1567. Catchy because it’s a well known round All praise to thee, my God, this night — but demanding to present with full harmony.

However, as we welcome good friend Rev Vicky Cullen (members of The Gospel Folk will remember from country visits some years ago), we turn to a simpler but pretty refrain by Isaac Everett from The Emergent Psalter. Guess what? Also a round, and can be sung like an Aaronic blessing upon each other. Music download here>. The paraphrased verses are sung antiphonally by a small group (Roll up, roll up!) using the same tune.Ps67 TEP refrain

Image of Tallis’s canon: Note the tune is initially in the tenor, a common contemporary practice. Image of refrain music from The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett.

Psalms 89 or 23 … or maybe 139, 19Jul15

The Vanderbilt Divinity Library tells us:

During the Season after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two sets of parallel readings:

  • The first set of “semicontinuous” OT readings follows major stories/themes, beginning in Year A with Genesis and ending in Year C with the later prophets.
  • “Complementary” OT readings follow the historical tradition of thematically pairing the OT reading with the Gospel reading.

… The psalms for each Sunday after Pentecost are intended to paired with a particular OT reading (either semicontinuous or complementary).

It’s not often that we hesitate about the alternative readings. Leaders normally choose the first mentioned and away we go.

Entering Taizé village

Entering Taizé village, France

This week, however, we are pleased at the prospect of another Taizé service. So, rushing off to the Taizé web pages, we search in vain for direct reference to either psalm for the week. Jacques Berthier specialised in catching hold of one verse or just a phrase of a  few words as a meditation, relishing its every nuance by musical creativity and inspiration.

Choices, choices

There are three options: use any appropriate refrain, make one up, or just enjoy a different psalm.

In for a penny, we are preparing for all three options. First, we shall sing a different yet favourite song, Psalm 139, just the opening and closing verses; secondly, we could use a well-known chant like Bless the Lord my soul as refrain. However, here is a new home-grown choice drawing upon verses 1 and 2:



Psalm 78, 28 September 2014

StoriesThis long psalm of Asaph in 72 verses covers many of the high points in the Torah, including the plagues and the exodus, later trials and the calling of King David. We just had some of that a couple of weeks ago in Psalm 114 on the 14th but they are great tales and, as I wrote at some length last week, worth thinking about in depth. In case we missed the point, here the Psalm 78 introductory verses tell us again:

… Recount to generations to come the wonderful deeds and power of God (v. 4)

The lectionary reading spares us the full 72 verses, using only the first four verses in which the psalmist declares the value of telling the stories of the ancestors.

"Maybe we'd better wait for that fire by night"

“Maybe we’d better wait for that fire by night”

Then we hear in verses 12 to 16 the reminders of the escape through the Red Sea, the guiding pillar of cloud and fire, and the water from the rock.


Imagery is a powerful aspect in the psalms. Scientists have offered various explanations on the Red Sea’s behaviour under Moses’ rod, such as local wind conditions altering the tides in the shallows so that sandbanks were revealed. The psalmist sniffs at that and, whether realistically or impressionistically, writes with bold hand:

God split open the sea and let them pass through; the waters stood up like walls. (v. 18)

Rock without waterThe image of water gushing from rock in a desert land certainly captures the attention of those of us who dwell in the great dry south land.

Blind faith?

The outcome was superb, sings the psalmist. But the Exodus reading gives the full unedifying detail, including the complaints and Moses’ entreaty for guidance when the people were ‘almost ready to stone me’ (Ex. 7).

Plan B

“Just run that plan by us again. You want to hit it with your walking stick? And when your stick breaks, what is your graceful degradation face-saving low risk fall-back option?”

It looked very much as though the wheels were falling off and there was no Plan B; just follow some sort of wooly pile of cloud and do what that old unelected leader with a stick said. Amazing when you are parched in the desert how quickly you can forget the good times, the miracle of the plagues and the Passover, the sea parting and the fall of the pursuing horse and rider.


This is not intended to encourage blind faith or recklessness. We are responsible for ourselves after all, bearing our own and one another’s burdens; in Sunday’s epistle we read ‘work out your own salvation’  (Phil. 2). A little planning — A, B and perhaps C — is not a bad thing. But then the psalm reminds us to draw guidance from absorbed biblical values. Oh and keep an eye out for those cloudy pillars.


Here are some of the suggested refrains, drawing from verses 1 to 4 of Psalm 78:

  • Give your ears to the lessons of the past (Everett)
  • We shall listen (TiS 41)
  • God has spoken (TiS 636 or PFAS 78c)
  • Forget not the works (NCH)

Psalm 105, 21 Sep 14

What, Psalm 105 again? Yes, here we are again, or still, telling the story of the exodus and the legendary events along the way — the Red Sea, water from the rock, moments of trust or lack of, complaints and joyful moments, highs and lows. There are many angles to explore.

Swiss kidsBy telling and repeating, singing the familiar tunes and lyrics, people learned their history, culture, lessons from tales of the past and, osmotically perhaps, values.

A Swiss story

That ancient exodus journey doubtless looked and felt more chaotic and uncertain than the little group of Swiss kids depicted here, going on one of their regular outings to the nearby woods with their equipment and supplies.

The idea here is not to re-imagine a group on excursion or exodus, but to draw attention to the oral tradition through this snapshot of early learning practice in Switzerland. These children at Kindergarten level will spend much of their time on social and group activities, projects like lantern festivals and group meals, and — importantly for psalm singers — singing and storytelling.

Horgenberg farmHere, they are going off for the day to identify trees or birds, safely build a fire to make tea, perhaps visit a local farm and enjoy group stories and singing.

Australian children have excellent opportunities and experiences too, as Bette and others are fully aware. However, we do tend to regard literacy and numeracy as an important early goal and even measure of progress. The Swiss pay little heed to the 3 Rs until much later; they will not turn seriously to these formalities until these little lovelies enter primary grades at age 7. By that time, they know what it is to be Swiss.


So while we might be tempted to think that Psalm 105, with or without Lassus, has had more than its fair share of air, we are reminded of the value of singing our stories in different ways and on different occasions. Given that the psalm occupies but three minutes once a week, you’d hardly say it’s reached saturation level.

A light to our path

A light to our path

Repetition and reflection are important, particularly as our children absorb psalm verses and tunes that will hopefully return and warm their hearts throughout their lives, a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. (Psalm 119:105)

By chewing these poems over and making them our own, as Psalm 119 also suggests for example in verse 104, we absorb laudable values.


With some Lassus singers away, we will not repeat Cofitemini, although the associated home-grown response and Gregorian chant that we have been using for this psalm would work well. The relevant refrain from The Emergent Psalter may be a little long, while TiS 66 and PFAS options such as 105B might also suit.

Farm Wädenswil

Psalm 124, 24 Aug 14

A song of ascent

A song of ascent

If God be for us, who can be against us?

This well-known verse is found not in the psalms but in Romans 8:31. It contains the same message as Psalm 124, and in particular the last verse which has become a standard line in many liturgies:

Our help is in the name of the Lord.

As another song of ascent (the fifth), Psalm 124 recalls and relishes divine protection and deliverance as good grounds for trust and a confident approach.

Imagery is typically vivid, picturing first raging waters that would have swept over us without such protection, if God were not ‘on our side’ (verses 1, 4, 5).

Then, imagine a bird avoiding the fowler’s trap:

The snare is broken and we have escaped (v. 7)


... while I walk this path

… while I walk this path

Dipping into the archives, I find Brian and I sang this psalm eighteen months ago using a gospel tune called Guide my feet, one sung for many years by our friends in The Gospel Folk. There are other responsorial settings available but they often rely on verses either spoken or sung to a simple chant tone.

Since we are giving our old friend Gregory a good airing in our Renaissance music series associated with Psalm 105, we have been interlacing those moments of sedate beauty with lighter variations. The African-American tune certainly does that.

The ascent is sometimes steep and indirect

The ascent is sometimes steep and indirect

A close reading of the psalm reveals no direct link to the words of Guide my feet (while I walk this path) other than the appellation of a psalm of ascent and a plea for divine protection.

However the song builds by implication on the psalm’s theme, inviting us not to take the low road, not — as we find in another reading for the day — to be conformed to the world, allowing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds towards higher ideals. (Rom: 12:2)

It’s also suggested in Singing from the Lectionary and is a well-known and enjoyable sing.

Our men’s group will lead us this week using a modified arrangement of the old tune.

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Psalm 139, 20 July 2014

Bike in lakeWhat you see and what you think you see are not always the same thing. Is this an image of smoke-rings, a bicycle or a piece of post-modern art?

Have you ever thought you knew someone well only to find out they have a very different side to them from that which you have known?

This may be true of ourselves too. We don’t always analyse our own character and behaviour as objectively as we might.

This, according to Psalm 139, is why we need to submit ourselves to the spotlight of God’s loving but frank scrutiny:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (verses 23, 24)

Fine, but it’s not as simple as that, is it? It’s not as though you have a direct line or interactive web-site to fill in a survey form, get instant feedback.  Psalm 13 that we sang  a couple of weeks ago (Brian and I loved singing this Steve Bell song for you) still rings in my head. It was all about that frustrating silence from the heavens. How long do we have to wait to get some sort of answer, comfort, guidance or voice on our doubts and dilemmas, let alone a personal report card?

How long, O God, will you turn your face from me?

Who is God anyway?

Lurking behind these apparently conflicting poetic ideas is the question of how personal is your God. Is YHWH a powerful but vague force out there somewhere, a spirit moving upon the face of the waters sweeping silently in grand scale across the vast universe, unconcerned by a Western preoccupation with individualism yet benevolent toward the aggregate fate of a flawed humanity?

Or an intimate and individual God whose eye instantly notices the fall of the sparrow, numbers the hairs of your head, and knows when you sit or stand? And somewhere in the middle is that still small voice of calm.

Maybe like the bike in the water, our perspective will change with the light and times?

Only you can answer that but the god’s-eye view, it would seem from the psalms, is crystal clear and all of the above, yesterday, today, forever. We trust that reflecting on the psalms from week to week —  How long? in Psalm 13, You see me in Psalm 139 and many other songs — will somehow clarify the picture.


Bruce has found a nice setting of this psalm by Michael Card and will sing it for us on Sunday 13 July. The response, repeating a couple of bars of the tune after each verse, is:

Search me O God, and know my heart

Ps139 RefrainThe lower line is a plain pedal note on g that  you can sing in harmony if the upper note is too high.

And if you got this far and are still interested…

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