Psalm 85, 10 Dec ’17

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 48, 5 Jul 15

Mountain of God

There’s something mysterious about high mountains. As Philip Marsden writes:

Sacred mountains crop up in most traditional cosmologies… Olympus, Tabor, Sinai, Ararat, Fuji … it’s hard to think of a great mountain that is not linked with the gods or even a distinctive hill that has at some stage generated a local belief. (1)

A song of ascent

Our local Mount Taylor in Ngunnawal territory.

Marsden was writing from Cornwall, but it certainly rings true of the traditional owners of the land in this ancient Australian continent.

Psalm 48 features one, the ‘holy mountain of God, beautiful in elevation’ (verse 1). It’s on the one hand:

the joy of all the earth,

but at the same time, a fearful prospect to opponents of divine goodness:

Then the kings assembled. As soon as they saw it they were astonished; they were in panic, they took flight. (vv. 4, 5)

The psalm weaves a song of praise around this main theme, the vision of a lofty yet immediate presence. The psalms often speak of divine ‘power’ and the fear of a supreme being. Australian theologian Ben Myers, reflecting on the Trinity, provides useful grammar to have in mind whenever you read this language [emphasis added]:

The “power” of God is not domination but God’s infinite capacity to achieve love’s purposes

Two additional themes

A second idea in the middle of the psalm, a brief sparkle, picks up Myers’ point:

We ponder your steadfast love in the midst of the temple (verse 9)

Thirdly, there’s succession planning. The twist at the end is an exhortation to become fully familiar with ‘Zion’ —  the figurative city of God, love-space central — and to tell the next generation of those who will follow.

Pick and choose

Psalm 48 provides a good case study in picking your music and response from the many sources. As I point out on the Styles page and elsewhere, words are important. We are not really here for the music, which should serve the message. So the worship leader might pick from those three themes mentioned above whichever response best suits the chosen theme of the day.(2)

This has to be balanced with musical judgements, in particular the art of the possible and style of music that will best inspire and energise those gathered.

Just working on a few of the many settings available, here’s a sample matrix:

Theme Sources Music style
1. ‘Great is the Lord’ Settings by Elgar and J. Smith; TiS 626 Traditional SATB, 18-19th century; Hymn
2. Love in the temple PFAS and NCH(3) Simple responsive
3. Tell the next generation TEP(4) Modern

Notes: Continue reading

Psalm 85, 7 December 2014

A song of ascent

There’s comfort in familiar landmarks

The first Australians have been conscious of and connected to the land in much stronger and deeper ways than more recent arrivals can comprehend or feel.

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. The first verses speak of restoration and forgiveness but these blessings are anchored in a context. From the opening phrase we are reminded that we live in a certain land:

Lord, you were favorable to your land …

Later, we are assured that salvation is at hand; why?

… that God’s glory may dwell in our land (v.9)

But the strongest imagery is yet to come:

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. (vv. 10, 11)

Faithfulness, a fundamental divine and image-of-the-divine virtue, is somehow associated with the very heart of the creation.

Other readings

As we so often find, lectionary readings are linked in many ways. I’ll bet the founders of our current lectionary didn’t have the land in mind as they made their selections, but the presence is just as strong in the text we hear from Exodus:

  • In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway
  • Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
  • The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
  • Get you up to a high mountain … (vv. 3 to 9)

Cathedral walk in the Bungle BunglesAnd where, in the reading from Mark, does John the baptiser appear? In the wilderness of course.

The land is by no means the main story in this psalm. There’s a lot more for you to discover (full readings are here>).

However, whether it’s bush-walking, growing your own, or working to preserve the environment, it’s a reminder to connect with our world afresh.

Music

We shall sing a setting used previously:

Ps85 Show us

It’s worth noting that No 45 in Together in Song would also 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 I think verses 1 and 2 are necessary to set the scene.