Psalm 118, 25 March 18

This psalm of thanks opens and closes with resounding acclamations of divine love and mercy that endure forever. In between are statements about trusting in God rather than in rulers (8), relief at delivery from evil and opposition (5, 10) access to goodness (19) and causes for rejoicing.

Each year when this psalm arises on Palm Sunday, local practice has been to pick up verse 22:

The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

As Paul Stookey has it in his song The Building Block, the cornerstone of a whole new world, one more resilient than the grand structures of antiquity — Shelly’s Ozymandius comes to mind.

Since there are half-a-dozen previous posts on this psalm — see April 2017 and March 2016, for example — that’s it for now. Almost… Continue reading “Psalm 118, 25 March 18”

Psalm 62, 21 Jan ’18

The first four verses of the lectionary reading (5-12) sketch a divine presence that is strong, constant, and a safe refuge. David invites us to wait with him in silence, trusting in this ‘stronghold’. Verses 5 and 6 repeat the first two verses of the psalm, and are therefore an integral antiphon within the poem.

A call to silence entering the worship space at Taizé, France.

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

Rest in God alone my soul.

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

Ps62 in the Wode Psalter 1564-1625

Yet be still my soul, and wait for God.

An interesting variation, with a sense of mobility rather than stasis, appears in the Wode partbooks (see the text illustrated at right and an earlier post on Psalm 62):

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

The next section of the Psalm goes on to warn against the pursuit of riches, social precedence, extortion or other iniquities and inequities. The psalmist concludes with a reminder of steadfast divine love, and our consequent responsibility.

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Here’s a brief list of some of the musical offerings:

  • Those looking for a traditional hymn might find an SATB setting by Schütz from 1661 (My soul is silent in my God, SWV 159) useful, if rather conservative in style and harmony. It draws on the set of Lutheran hymns in the Becker Psalter in Leipzig of 1602.
  • A small choir of sight-readers would enjoy presenting one of the two settings by Lassus of selected verses of this psalm. But wait! Closer examination reveals that one is by Orlando di Lasso senior (1532-94) and the other by his son, Ferdinand (1560-1609). Both delectable.
Incipit to Ps. 62:8,9 for six voices by Orlando de Lasso, 1573
  • The responsorial refrain in Psalms for All Seasons is actually a Taizé setting, so the photograph above of their invitation to silence is again relevant. As usual, verses are sung to a tone by cantor or small group.
  • Everett in The Emergent Psalter produces a typically thoughtful but uncharacteristically sparse refrain (one chord, no syncopation, even notes), complete with silence. It can be sung as a two-part round.
  • Psalm 62 in TiS No. 33 has not been much sung at South Woden, mainly because it usually comes up close to Australia Day, for which we have sung music from Australian composers: these verses are used by permission from A New Zealand Prayer Book and the tone is from a ‘source unknown’. However this year it falls a week away from that not altogether comfortable date for the national anniversary; further, the selection in TiS includes verses that, rather unusually, coincide with the lectionary reading; and finally, they are [I regret that I must repeat ‘unusually’] inclusive. So it’s on the plan, while Roger and Willa lead our worship. All singers invited.

Psalm 68, 28 May 17

IMG_3012In the ‘bookends’ at beginning and end of this long psalm, the psalmist 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. Between these bookends of praise for divine power and ubiquity comes a recitation of providence and caring for 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)

Such verses are followed by others emphasising care for the needy, homeless and destitute. (v.10)  As Jesus, that quintessential observer of human nature observed, regrettably the poor are always with us. (Mark 14:7) 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? As discussed in Psalm 2, 119 and others, the aim is to recognise and rule by ethical standards outlined in ‘theWord’. An outcome is suggested in the final verse:

Ascribe power to God … who gives power to the people. (vv. 34-5)

Music

An easy option is a cantor singing the verses to a tone, 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 may be sung as a round against a simple repetitive harmonic pattern. The congregation sings two parts, part 2 starting at bar 2, while children can repeat just the first phrase in a simpler and more easily learned part.

As usual, there are good alternatives in the other sources, such as PFAS 68B, which is repeated from Everett’s TEP with a tone added for chanted verses.

 

Psalm 66, 21 May 17

This psalm is a cry of joy for divine guidance and deliverance.

Come and hear, you who fear our maker, as I tell how God rescued my soul. I cried to God and was answered; God’s praise is ever on my lips (vv. 8, 9)

The psalmist feels that he has been pulled through the briar bush backwards, expressing that experience somewhat more elegantly as being ‘tried as silver is tried’, rescued, refined. In another image we have encountered previously, he feels downtrodden and ‘went through fire and water‘ (v. 12) – two of the elemental foundations of our existence as seen by Aristotle. After that ordeal, God led him to ‘a spacious place’. This is an enticing phrase – we relish somehow the idea of entering a spacious place. Architects live and breathe this idea, not because they are architects but because people feel comfortable and open in such a space. Other translations say ‘a place of refreshment’.

And for an off-the-wall take on Psalm 66 from Australian theologian Ben Myers in his #psalmtweet summaries of the Bible:

The water lifted itself up in a heap and gave a bow, and all Your people marched across on dry land.

Music

Music to suit this poem could be from a thousand angles. One source suggests songs as widely spread and as loosely related as ‘O little town of Bethlehem‘ and ‘All hail the power‘. Many sources of sung responses for this week’s psalm refer to the idea appearing especially in the last lines of the Lectionary selection verse 12, that of restoration after trials:

We went through fire and water; but you brought us out into a spacious place (NRSV) – or ‘a place of refreshment’ (Everett)

The first half of the psalm is in the form of a communal thanksgiving, while the second half moves to a more personal note. The full psalm is too long for us to enjoy fully the value of this juxtaposition. One writer summarises the theme of our psalm for this week as:

Make a joyful noise, God’s brought us through some rough stuff.

In slightly less exuberant tone, if not substance, Psalms for all seasons number 66A antiphon goes like this:

E              D               E
 Cry out to God in joy all the earth
 Give glory to the name of the Lord

Simplicity has its own power, and this is manifested in this response by overlaying a simple tune over alternating chords. The tune for the verses expands on this slightly.

FIRE_01

Far more cogently, Isaac Everett as usual in The Emergent Psalter has fresh ideas. He firstly invites us to sing one of his characteristically syncopated swings about the fire and water experience – an attractive option. Then another off-the-wall idea with Buffy the vampire slayer’s Walk through the fire.  (Tempting: but innovation and recency appeal more that its emphasis on burning.)

Psalm 31, 14 May 17

Palms at Percy IsThis psalm, combining many common themes of supplication, distress, trust and courage in diversity, appeared in the Lectionary just last month. It was discussed in a post for Palm Sunday, a summary of which follows.

This is a rich psalm, combining feelings of confidence and security together with a sense of danger, sorrow and dismay. Enduring all opposition, David recognises the need for some assistance from the ‘tower of strength’ and the ‘God of truth’ (vv.4, 5) Then in verse 5 we find words quoted by the dying Jesus: “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” accounting for this reading in Holy Week and Easter.

As always the choice of music depends on a leader’s chosen theme. Thus:

  • If resignation of the spirit to divine power and care along the lines of verse 5 is preferred, the refrain from The Emergent Psalter would suit. It swings along quite nicely but has a definite air of lamentation about it. The psalm itself mixes that feeling with strong lines of petition and trust.
  • NCH has two refrains, the first emphasising the rock and fortress of faith, and the second asking for heavenly grace: “Let your face shine upon your servant.”
  • Celebrating hope and help in time of trouble is a favourite, the two-part antiphonal setting in Psalms for all seasons 31C by AnnaMae Meyer Bush and Kathleen Hart Brumm. This beautiful and thoughtful response is strong on melody, harmony and meaning, picking up a rather mysterious but powerful promise in verse 15: “My times are in your hands.” That’s only one of four good statements of belief rolled into this antiphon, which continues: “… You strengthen me in strife. My hope is in your word. Your love preserves my life.” This nicely harmonised response follows an easy, descending path of similar phrases. Easily learned, nice to sing. Verses may be sung to a similar chord progression. The main tune is quite a high setting but there is a second lower part acting as an echo voice which adds an excellent dynamic and antiphonal element.