Psalm 69

Sometimes themes and verses are repeated so often in the psalms that it’s hard to find new inspiration. In Psalm 69, we hear again the laments and prayers of someone who feels enmity, opposition, slander and loneliness, the while giving thanks for merciful love and safety in divine provision.

IMG_2346.JPGFresh, however, is imagery of sinking in swirling waters — ‘up to my neck, I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold’. Another new touch is in verse 21, quoted in all the gospel stories of the crucifixion:

They gave me gall to eat, vinegar to quench my thirst.

Save me O God by John Blow (1648-1708) nicely captures these fresh ideas using a four-part chorus, with a trio singing selected verses. Lassus wrote at least three settings for verses in Psalm 69, including a trio Deus tu scis using verse 6; on verse 13 Adversum me loquebantur à5; and another trio Exaudi me on verse 17.

Amongst the few contemporary settings available for this psalm, two in Psalms for All Seasons — with different authors but the same chord sequence — appear unremarkable but should respond well to sympathetic treatment. 69C has added attraction as coming from the pen of John Bell and Wild Goose.

I enjoy the sparse introduction to a song by Australian band The Sons of Korah released on their 2005 album Resurrection. You can hear a sample on their web-site. I note, by the way, that the band has a concert in Canberra next Saturday 10 September 2016 — all psalms!

Psalms 107 and 49, 31 July 2016

NSEWPsalm 107 (we read the first nine verses with 43 tacked on the end) recalls the gathering in from all points of the compass of a fragmented and wandering people, hungry and thirsty, into safety under the ‘steadfast love’ of the divine hand.

It’s likely that the catalyst was originally the deliverance of the Israelites from exile. The song goes on to enumerate other crises, storms at sea and sickness, in which comforting divine love is to be praised.

The post for March 2015  drew attention to the relevance of this picture to the present days of displaced persons, families and even tribes seeking a home in troubled places of the world. Steadfast love is much needed in Australia and elsewhere against rising fears and harsh responses. (1)

Music

A still earlier post (November 2014) referred to some suitable refrains by regular writers:

  • Isaac Everett provides a great three-part setting that is thoughtful and fun to sing with a little practice.
  • Marty Haugen’s simple Consider the steadfast love of God (v.43) is found in the New Century Hymnal
  • Paul Kelly’s Meet me in the middle of the air is a great song — but is not based on Ps 107.

I even find one in the Library that I wrote, using slightly differing verses, for St Patrick’s Day — I now have no idea why, nor whether we ever sang it. Must be the Irish in me.

And speaking of different verses, that evocative phrase ‘Those who go down to the sea in boats’ inspired Henry Purcell to write a motet on those middle verses.

Carved saints, AugMusPsalm 49

Psalm 107 concluded by urging some deep thought:

Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of God (v.43)

Psalm 49, in the alternative readings, invites the same, but to music:

The meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp (vs 3, 4)

The song continues with a reminder that all people, of estate high or low, are equal and subject to mortality. Riches, pomp, status and wealth count for nothing.

Giving heed to these things, solving this riddle with or without the harp will surely lead to a conclusion that people should be treated equally and with steadfast love while, as the Dalai Lama says, we are visiting this planet.

Few classical settings appear for either of these psalms. Our more modern psalters similarly have few good antiphonal settings available; PFAS 107C is actually a repeat of one by Everett from The Emergent Psalter (2), telling us we can’t take it with us.

Timbrels

A good way to consider this psalm in depth would be to write your own tune. You may have to imagine the harp. Or as the psalmists often say (see comments on 150 for example), find any stringed instrument, trumpet, cymbal, timbrel or tambourine — whatever is to hand.

Notes:  Continue reading

Psalm 105, 21 Sep 14

What, Psalm 105 again? Yes, here we are again, or still, telling the story of the exodus and the legendary events along the way — the Red Sea, water from the rock, moments of trust or lack of, complaints and joyful moments, highs and lows. There are many angles to explore.

Swiss kidsBy telling and repeating, singing the familiar tunes and lyrics, people learned their history, culture, lessons from tales of the past and, osmotically perhaps, values.

A Swiss story

That ancient exodus journey doubtless looked and felt more chaotic and uncertain than the little group of Swiss kids depicted here, going on one of their regular outings to the nearby woods with their equipment and supplies.

The idea here is not to re-imagine a group on excursion or exodus, but to draw attention to the oral tradition through this snapshot of early learning practice in Switzerland. These children at Kindergarten level will spend much of their time on social and group activities, projects like lantern festivals and group meals, and — importantly for psalm singers — singing and storytelling.

Horgenberg farmHere, they are going off for the day to identify trees or birds, safely build a fire to make tea, perhaps visit a local farm and enjoy group stories and singing.

Australian children have excellent opportunities and experiences too, as Bette and others are fully aware. However, we do tend to regard literacy and numeracy as an important early goal and even measure of progress. The Swiss pay little heed to the 3 Rs until much later; they will not turn seriously to these formalities until these little lovelies enter primary grades at age 7. By that time, they know what it is to be Swiss.

Songlines

So while we might be tempted to think that Psalm 105, with or without Lassus, has had more than its fair share of air, we are reminded of the value of singing our stories in different ways and on different occasions. Given that the psalm occupies but three minutes once a week, you’d hardly say it’s reached saturation level.

A light to our path

A light to our path

Repetition and reflection are important, particularly as our children absorb psalm verses and tunes that will hopefully return and warm their hearts throughout their lives, a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. (Psalm 119:105)

By chewing these poems over and making them our own, as Psalm 119 also suggests for example in verse 104, we absorb laudable values.

Music

With some Lassus singers away, we will not repeat Cofitemini, although the associated home-grown response and Gregorian chant that we have been using for this psalm would work well. The relevant refrain from The Emergent Psalter may be a little long, while TiS 66 and PFAS options such as 105B might also suit.

Farm Wädenswil

Psalm 139, 20 July 2014

Bike in lakeWhat you see and what you think you see are not always the same thing. Is this an image of smoke-rings, a bicycle or a piece of post-modern art?

Have you ever thought you knew someone well only to find out they have a very different side to them from that which you have known?

This may be true of ourselves too. We don’t always analyse our own character and behaviour as objectively as we might.

This, according to Psalm 139, is why we need to submit ourselves to the spotlight of God’s loving but frank scrutiny:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (verses 23, 24)

Fine, but it’s not as simple as that, is it? It’s not as though you have a direct line or interactive web-site to fill in a survey form, get instant feedback.  Psalm 13 that we sang  a couple of weeks ago (Brian and I loved singing this Steve Bell song for you) still rings in my head. It was all about that frustrating silence from the heavens. How long do we have to wait to get some sort of answer, comfort, guidance or voice on our doubts and dilemmas, let alone a personal report card?

How long, O God, will you turn your face from me?

Who is God anyway?

Lurking behind these apparently conflicting poetic ideas is the question of how personal is your God. Is YHWH a powerful but vague force out there somewhere, a spirit moving upon the face of the waters sweeping silently in grand scale across the vast universe, unconcerned by a Western preoccupation with individualism yet benevolent toward the aggregate fate of a flawed humanity?

Or an intimate and individual God whose eye instantly notices the fall of the sparrow, numbers the hairs of your head, and knows when you sit or stand? And somewhere in the middle is that still small voice of calm.

Maybe like the bike in the water, our perspective will change with the light and times?

Only you can answer that but the god’s-eye view, it would seem from the psalms, is crystal clear and all of the above, yesterday, today, forever. We trust that reflecting on the psalms from week to week —  How long? in Psalm 13, You see me in Psalm 139 and many other songs — will somehow clarify the picture.

Music

Bruce has found a nice setting of this psalm by Michael Card and will sing it for us on Sunday 13 July. The response, repeating a couple of bars of the tune after each verse, is:

Search me O God, and know my heart

Ps139 RefrainThe lower line is a plain pedal note on g that  you can sing in harmony if the upper note is too high.

And if you got this far and are still interested…

Continue reading

Psalm 66, 25 May 14

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)

Fire and water

Fire and water may look enthralling – until you are in the middle of it

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 and refined.

In another image we have encountered previously, he feels downtrodden and ‘went through fire and water‘ (v. 12 – and two of the elemental foundations of our existence as seen by Aristotle) probably not as peaceful an experience as the illustration of the sun sinking quietly into the majestic Indian Ocean. And after that ordeal, God led him to ‘a spacious place’ (NRSV).

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’.IMG_1633.JPG

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 as ‘O little town of Bethlehem‘ and ‘All hail the power‘. Hmm; I’m still looking for good connections on those.

FIRE_01

Image: Wiki commons

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.

Opting for familiarity and the residual glow of post-Easter rejoicing, the chosen antiphonal response is from PFAS 66A by Stephen Warner, which we sang in October 2013 but to a different selection of verses:

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 of F major and Eb major. The tune for the verses expands on this slightly.

Adding a little more fuel to the fire, it’s the last Sunday of the month so our male voice group, whom I thank warmly, will lead this psalm.