Psalms 9 and 10, skips

Psalm 10 never makes it into the weekly Lectionary readings, but 9 just sneaks in: “Year B, ordinary time, June 19-25 (if after Trinity)”. Sounds iffy indeed. But still, 9 does not qualify as a ‘skip‘. So on to 10.

But wait! In the early Septuagint translation and the original Hebrew, these two songs were one. (1)  Isaac Everett says:

It’s clear that they form a single unit because the combined text is acrostic, with the first letter of each forming the Hebrew alphabet: Psalm 9 is roughly A-K and Psalm 10 is roughly L-Z.(2) So 9+10=a big fat psalm.

9 10 henThey were split because they have a different theme. First is joy and thanksgiving, then a lament. Convention would have it the other way around. But in the ship of fools, the first shall be last; so forget the labels and ‘Nine, ten, sing it again’. (3)

Nine. As in history, here David is thankful that his many enemies have been defeated. The modern reader gets little from triumphalism except as an example of faith in adversity, or as an allegory of our struggling with our own demons or the ‘Dark Side’. Throughout, we are reminded:

God will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. (v. 9)

Ten. The mood changes to waiting, praying and a little hand-wringing while those enemies play their nasty tricks:

Why do you stand so far off O God, and hide yourself in times of trouble? (v. 1)

Not all about me

In Psalms for all seasons No 10A, a plainsong melody, the translator has nicely emphasised a social justice angle:Image: Wikimedia commons

From every plan which harms the poor,
from schemes to victimise the weak,
from those who snare the innocent,
Lord your defence, your help we seek. (4)

That certainly brings it up to date in a world of growing divide between rich and poor. Big fat hen or goose, maybe there’s the golden egg?

Notes: Continue reading

Psalm 30, 10 April 2016

IMG_0400Psalm 30 may have originally been a song of thanks for recovery from a serious illness. Evidently this was somewhat worse that just flat batteries; brought up from death and ‘the Pit’ (verse 3).

Whatever the origin, the psalmist — it’s again attributed to David — gives thanks for finding restoration and divine mercy after striking tough times, a very low ebb.

The song contains some lovely phrases, including the famous verse 5:

God’s wrath endures but a moment: God’s favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night: but joy comes in the morning.

There’s also a rather lovely image of responding through dance, something that we do not much favour in laced-up Western traditions:

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. (v. 11)

Women sing

In Aboriginal cultures, the dances of men and women were quite different, telling life from different angles and roles. I can imagine women of any culture gathering for this song, telling the tale from a carer’s or a mother’s viewpoint, gracefully and quietly expressing thanks and hope.

Kassia's Epigrams from Works of Demetrius Cydones and others, Eastern Mediterranean, 16th Century, Add MS 10072, f.94r - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2016/03/kassia.html#sthash.IIN3Czdw.dpuf

Kassia’s Epigrams, Eastern Mediterranean, 16th Century, Add MS 10072, f.94r

As it happens, Gregor spoke warmly on Easter Sunday of the important role of women in the Easter story, especially when the big-name male disciples were conspicuous by their absence. Coincidentally I noted a post from the mediaeval manuscripts section of the British Library the other day that resonated with my interest in both early manuscripts and music from Orthodox and other traditions. The BL, marking women’s history month and the recently celebrated IWD, informs us:

Of the hundreds of hymn composers from the Eastern Church, only four women can be positively identified and only one of these – Kassia — had her works incorporated into official service books for use in church worship. She also wrote secular works. The British Library holds a collection of her epigrams.

– See illustration and more here>.

Sunday. Returning to the plan for the day, women will sing a simple home-grown arrangement of our South Woden Communion Chant, last sung with Psalm 30 in July 2013, but still hidden away on our Dropbox. The refrain is:

You turned my lament into dancing, and girded me with joy.

Ps30 Dancing

This psalm and the accompanying readings all tell tales of a complete change of direction — sorrow to dancing, Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus, fishermen reluctantly casting their nets on the other side — a wide variety of situations all telling of the transforming power of divine love and grace.

Psalms for palms; 118, 31

Entry gate, Le ThoronetAfter a couple of opening verses of Psalm 118 proclaiming divine goodness and mercy, the lectionary (liturgy of the palms) cuts to the second half. As Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem, so here:

Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them and praise God. (v. 19)

Old farm cottage museum, Moudeyres

That corner stone now appears. The stone that was rejected became the chief cornerstone of a new world of faith, a new system of justice and life. There is not always a keystone at the top of arches, like the entrance depicted in the first photograph, but it’s common enough.

In the next photo of an old farmhouse, the corner blocks are evidently larger and act as bonding keystones in the corner of the old building. Either way, something has a central role of chief cornerstone in holding a structure together. Several oft-quoted lines follow:Palm in Vence

This is the day that God has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it (v.24)

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God (v.26)

Give thanks to God, whose mercy endures forever (v.29

Oh! and don’t forget that it’s Palm Sunday:

Form a procession with branches (v. 27)

See also earlier discussion, including reference to King Henry VIII’s Psalter, in posts such as as 29 March and 5 April 2015.

Psalm 31

Whether we need a double helping or not, the liturgy of the passion for the same day serves up another set of readings, including Psalm 31. This is one of those cries for help in times of deep distress. I shall say no more at this stage, there being a previous post on the subject, other than to declare an allegiance to the beautiful and thoughtful two-part antiphonal setting in Psalms for all seasons 31C by AnnaMae Meyer Bush and Kathleen Hart Brumm. We sometimes sing both psalms, 118 on the way in with branches.

Music

I’ve mentioned PFAS 31C above. As always the choice of music depends on a leader’s chosen theme. Thus:

  • Palms at Percy Isif the corner stone is preferred as a symbol of establishing a new regime of grace, the choice could be TiS 74 or, as we have sung many times at South Woden, The Building Block by Peter Paul and Mary
  • If the eternal goodness and love of God is preferred, the refrain from The emergent psalter would suit — as long as you don’t mind a little music with a groove.
  • And 31 is hope and help in time of trouble.

Psalm 118 is also a reading for Easter, so there are a swag of settings in Psalms for all seasons to choose from. Canberra group Polifemy will sing a varied early music program with recorders, including William Byrd’s lively setting of this psalm Haec dies this Sunday at Wesley UC, 3pm.

Psalm 32, 6 March 2016

International Women’s Day on 8 March is an important day in many churches including South Woden, a community who has long valued inclusive and egalitarian policies and practices.

Beguinale, Brussels

Beguinale, Brussels

One cannot define the divine in terms of our own human gender. Our practice here as we sing psalm verses is carefully to paraphrase the sung text to avoid referring to God (and people) in the male terms common in most biblical translations; The emergent psalter is a favoured source for its inclusive language.

However, the psalms recognise images of God as feminine spirit and creator, as well as ideas of mothering or midwife (22:9, 113:9, 127), the prophetic (68:11) and other female influences. This includes the provision of shelter and care (22:9-10) as beautifully seen in the ancient Beguinale women’s order and their houses of refuge and faith in many cities.

Psalm 131 sounds as though its author may well have been a woman.The author’s experience of the divine is related directly to the mother rather than the father, affirming the mother’s strong and beautiful role in nurturing confident, content and independent children.

On the other hand, the psalms omit some courageous women when equivalent male prophets are mentioned by name (Miriam in Ps. 99). Pity, but perhaps this just reflects the pattern of other records and writings in those early cultures when men wrote the poetry, policy and history. This is no reason to discount this ancient poetry. An inclusive linguistic, contextual and poetic interpretation —  and recalling the esteem with which Jesus regarded women as recorded in John’s gospel — helps balance and fill in the gaps for modern sensibilities.

The Psalm

Psalm 32 itself is one of the psalms of penitence (the second after Ps. 6; this theme takes up the first half of the song), and also of refuge (vv. 6 -7; see comment above). But then it changes direction, breaks into other riffs of guidance or wisdom (8-9) and finally thanksgiving. A brief tweet by Ben Myers sweetly summarises:

When I finally got the courage to confess my sins, I discovered You weren’t even listening. You were singing to me. #psalmtweets

The music

At South Woden this Sunday there will be no sung psalm. Elsewhere, readers and singers might well draw on the guidance thread in verse 8 with a memorable and lilting Isaac Everett antiphon, chords slipping easily from minor to relative major sequences and back again in a short space:

Show me which way to go, counsel me with your eye upon me

Ps32LassusPsalms for all seasons suggests You are my hiding place, which many groups will enjoy. If a few good sight-readers are available, two short trios are worth a look:

  • Orlando di Lasso, Dixi confitebor, verse 5 only; starts simply but becomes more complex; excerpt shown in the illustration. Readers may recall that Lassus wrote a famous and much more ambitious set of Penitential Psalms, including this one.
  • Thomas Tomkins, Blessed is he, verses 1 and 2.

Skip and jump; 37, 92, 138

A matter of balance

Plenty of skip and jump in the Australian Open at this time of the year — despite the heat!

The poetic moods in the psalms range from dark and penitent to skipping and jumping. Sometimes several moods mix in any one song, making the choice of a suitably supportive musical style challenging.

The title today is occasioned by a different issue, that of the psalms we do not hear. Some we jump because they did not make it into the Revised Common Lectionary (the numbers not in bold type in the lists in the Library and index pages).

Others we skip because something comes up. This year, it’s because Easter is quite early and we leap into Lent before exhausting all the ‘ordinary’ days in the season after Epiphany. (1)

This year, Year C, the songs we lose for Lent are 138, 1, 37, 92 and 96. Let’s have a quick look, noting that 1 and 96 are discussed elsewhere in this blog:

  • The first psalm, together with the second, form something of an introduction to the book. It’s a beautiful song and not to be missed, so worth a read during the weeks sometime
  • 96 is visited frequently, often sung in December in fact as it comes up for Christmas Day.

Psalm 37

This is a fairly long (40 verses) reflection on people who are good or evil. It encourages us towards the Clean-living Claude/ia end, not just to avoid wrath but because such values are associated with wisdom — an important theme in the psalms — and hence justice. (v.30) The psalmist says not to bother if the wicked appear to flourish, themes picked up by a couple of classical settings of interest:

  • Orlando di Lassus: in Latin for five voices, presenting verses 35-36 (Tweet: “The wicked flourish; now you see them, now you don’t”); and
  • William Byrd: in English for only three voices and thus more attainable for small singing groups, a setting of verse 25 alone which is about the other side of the coin:

I have been young but now am old, but never have I seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.

I wonder if there’s a minimum age for the singers for that one? More seriously, we have seen young and old, including children of good people and of all walks of life, begging for bread in tragic circumstances recently. We can only pray that both sides of the coin, fading wickedness, thriving ‘righteousness’ and justice, may be true of those who are causing their pain.

Palms in the Kimberley

Palms grow strong across northern Australia; these ones in the Kimberley.

Psalm 92

Psalm 92 also values the senior citizen, an idea that Everett picks up in his antiphon in The emergent psalter:

Those who are righteous shall flourish like a palm tree … they shall bear fruit in old age (verses 12-14)

The full psalm is much broader in scope, though, with encouragement to sing praises in the morning and the evening, with psaltery, lyre and harp. This theme resonates in the refrains in PFAS, as well as a nice Taizé setting by Jacques Berthier (Together in song 50)

Palms at Percy IsPsalm 138

This is another psalm “of David”, of thanksgiving and trust.

This song also appears in TiS, at number 86, a refrain that I cannot remember ever singing. I say refrain rather than tune, for TiS rather unusually instructs us: “Verses are to be spoken. It is effective … against a softly playing-background of instruments”. This style is the norm in The emergent psalter.

Note: Continue reading

Psalm 84, 23 August 2015

After last week’s furrowed brows about ‘fear’, this psalm rings with those warm, positive poetic images that stick in the memory:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O God.

And later, in this short psalm:

10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For God is a sun and shield who bestows favor and honor. No good thing does God withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12 Happy is everyone who trusts in you.

I leave it at that; it speaks for itself.

Music

We do have a simple refrain suitable for a responsive singing of this psalm in the Psalms in the South library on Dropbox.

However, we shall turn on this occasion to the melodic tune HARINGTON, adapted from the old Scottish psalter of 1650, in Together in Song no 44. We look forward to Jon’s leadership this Sunday.

The Magnificat, 21 Dec 14

This lovely Song of Mary, found in Luke 1:46b-55, is called Magnificat since that is the first word of the text in the Latin:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.

The inattentive visitor looking up at the vaulted cathedral of Siena might step on this simple but beautiful marble unawares. A wondering Mary?You can feel the thrill springing up in her heart — to be the mother of the promised one!

The subject of this outpouring of joy is not just personal, although that surely would be enough for several songs.

She quickly broadens the focus to recognise divine benevolence to all the faithful, bringing mercy, justice and equality:

God’s mercy is for believers from generation to generation. God has shown strength by deeds, scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly. (vv. 50-52 alt.)

Each newbornIt is a lovely song, reminiscent of the Song of Hannah, mother of Samuel. Mary’s thoughts and examples range across both the personal and the community, with many ideas threaded into the central theme of Mary’s awe at this surprise honour.

Music

Over the last few years our ladies and girls have sung versions of this song to inspiring effect, the Canticle of turning in 2012 and then Holy is your name (PFAS p. 1020 — see the post last year for discussion of other music options).

All women and girls are welcome to share this experience again, meeting on Saturday for the first sampling of an arrangement in Psalms for all seasons.

You may wish to add your comments on this reading.