Psalm 111, 28 Jan 18

Psalm 111 is a song of praise in honour of the creative divine spirit whose very nature and deeds are awash in high standards of justice and goodness, “wrought in truth and equity”.(8)

These important attributes — standing out like sustaining pillars throughout the Psalter and thus much remarked upon in this blog, much desired in a selfish materialistic world — flow on to the ‘works’ or evidence on earth of divine influence. Bring it on; the pressing need for love and justice is patently obvious.

Introit verse 1 in Psalm 111, Salmos de Vísperas by Tomàs Luis di Victoria, c 1600. “I will give thanks to you Lord with my whole heart.”

A final verse notes that reverence to this divine nature is ‘the beginning of wisdom’. Most translations say ‘the fear of God’, which seems to this author to be a rather inadequate rendition of the honour and loving respect due to revealed divine principles and their source, as the psalmist would have intended. Either way, this final verse seems to set up the transition to the next Psalm 112, which starts: “Happy are those who fear God, who delight in the commandments.”

For further comment:

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Early composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Mozart, Heinrich Schütz and Tomas Victoria all wrote several settings to this psalm, probably because this is one of the vespers psalms. (The introit shown above is from Victoria’s setting for odd verses. The previous psalm, 110, was included in Monteverdi’s famous Vespers of 1610; illustration at right>)

In modern sources:

  • A useful refrain by Jane Marshall, with a double tone for the verses, appears in Together in Song 68.
  • That in The Emergent Psalter is probably a little tricky for congregations to pick up on the fly.
  • Marty Haugen’s relatively simple refrain in The New Century Hymnal draws on verse 2: ‘Great are the works of God’.
  • A local adaptation of Haugen’s composition has been retrofitted with new words for the wisdom theme: ‘To honour God is the beginning of wisdom.’ Was it a little wimpy to avoid ‘the fear’?

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)

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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 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.