Psalm 2, 26 Feb17

Psalm 2 complements the first psalm as a joint introduction to the Psalter with the assurance that the divine Spirit, with inevitably associated moral and behavioural constructs inferred from the Torah, is supreme above temporal rulers of the world. While this theme has ancient roots in the stories of creation and the establishment of the tribes of Israel, it also has a very modern message, as:

… nations conspire and people plot in vain; the rulers of the earth set themselves and leaders take counsel together … ‘Let us break their yoke, let us cast their cords from us’. (v.1-3)

Rulers then and now conspire to throw off the ‘bonds’ or ‘yoke’ of benevolence, truth and justice. There is a lot to be said for separation of church and state, especially given human tendencies to bend religious dogma for selfish purposes, power or control. That is not the same as governments ignoring or running counter to ethics and values recognised by humanists, Christianity and most major religions of the world. Does it matter that leaders base decisions and policies on ‘alternative facts’, declare history false, or ignore the law? Of course it does. Words have consequences, sometimes quite unpredicted and unintended. People without power suffer.

The nations, 1698. Image: Wikimedia commons

The nations, 1698. Image: Wikimedia commons

Maps drawn by the great navigators of the seventeenth century show how spheres of influence and fiefdoms spread around the world. Planted flags and place names reveal just a little of the manoeuvring and politics of exploration and possession, sometimes in the name of God, sometimes in that of nationalism, empire or commerce. Today, rulers change or ignore constitutions to gain or stay in power, use or abuse the church according to their ends, and take little heed of any moral compass. The psalm is a good reminder to dictators and democracies alike.

In amongst the sheep going astray, feeding of the flock and the hallelujahs of The Messiah by George Frederic Händel (1685 to 1759, a contemporary of J S Bach), behold this psalm text turns up in full force. Handel inserted some of this rage into his oratorio in a bass solo air Why do the nations? (quoting v.1), and the furious chorus Let us break their bonds asunder (v. 3). This latter is one of the show-stoppers, sometimes omitted since it’s not an easy sing when taken at full gallop.

Such atmospherics are nevertheless appropriate for Transfiguration Sunday, for which this psalm is scheduled. But Händel’s great music is not a likely choice for a light Sunday morning antiphon. Fortunately, much easier responses are to be found in modern sources (although there is no setting in TiS).

  • PFAS 2D is a simple tune. Two refrain text are provided. The first (“You are my son …”) is only relevant when associated with the Transfiguration. The alternative general text (“The Lord is King, with trembling bow in worship”) is a good admonition for wayward leaders, but may engage neither the average listener nor singer.
  • However, PFAS also recognises the turbulence and danger of the situation and provides both a ‘Dramatised reading‘ (2B) and a ‘Liturgy for Responsible Exercise of Authority‘ (2E). This latter title sounds a rather cumbersome but there’s no doubting it’s right on theme.A light burden
  • Another in The New Century Hymnal by Carolyn Jennings has much milder but more comforting words from the final phrase (v. 12) which refers us back in full circle to the beginning in Psalm 1: “Happy are all who take refuge in God”, whose bonds, according to Matthew 11: 30 and another chorus in The Messiah, are anything but onerous: “My yolk is easy and my burden is light.”
  • Everett’s singable refrain in TEP notes that the rulers of the world have set themselves against God.

Note: The alternative Lectionary reading is Psalm 99. For commentary on this song, please review the post on 7 Feb 2016.

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 62, 25 Jan 15 (2)

Ps62 in the TWode Psalter 1564-1625

Psalm 62 in the Wode Partbooks 1564-1625

An earlier preliminary post on this psalm, since refined, featured the Wode Partbooks (pronounced ‘wood’)  in the British Library. Tempting, but this Sunday being close to Australia Day we shall not sing from its ancient treasures.

The Psalm

Turning initially to the text, the first verse we read or hear (this reading being verses 5-12) is one that caught our attention in the previous post:

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God (v.5)

David (the psalm is attributed to him) goes on to declare that we have a firm foundation and refuge in God. In verse 10, he takes a heavy swipe at the pursuit of status, wealth and power. I wonder if then as now, 1% of people hold 99% of the wealth.

On a lighter note, I was not going to reblog this good one from Theologygrams as it was more relevant during Advent (the purple, of course), but…  My excuse: verse 10 (‘extortion’) made me.I’m not sure that Thomas Wode would have appreciated it, but you never know. Thanks to Rich Wyld.


Libby is looking for everything Australian to mark the national day on Monday, including an aboriginal version of ‘Our Father’ and other good Australian songs to enjoy. A home-grown psalm response will be offered.

RoosVerses. Psalm 62 in TiS No. 33 is not by an Australian composer such as Christopher Willcock. However it does include verses that, unusually, coincide with the lectionary reading. Further, they are [I regret that I must repeat ‘unusually’] inclusive.

These verses are used by permission from A New Zealand Prayer Book and the tone is from a ‘source unknown’. Is that close enough?

Response. Composers have taken various approaches to that opening verse, interpreting our accessional state as resting, being still or silent, waiting or walking. The response in TiS 33 says:

Rest in God alone my soul.

Simple and gracious, while the first line of the verses says:

Yet be still my soul, and wait for God.

The idea that captured our attention in the Wode partbooks (see the earlier post on Psalm 62) was:

Yet towards God with silence have I walked; in whome alone all health and hope I see.

We shall sing a local composition referring back to the slightly more active interpretation of the old Scottish version in a modern context. Linking the key words, it is built around the following refrain:

In silence walk with God, our refuge and our hope (vv. 5, 7)

Additional notes –

Continue reading