Psalm 139, 18 Jan 2015

IMG_2316 TanglesComplexity of situations, relationships or internal feelings can sometimes create such a tangled web that we are ensnared and immobilised. It would be easier if someone would just sweep in and ditch the unimportant things, whatever they are, and say: “Well, clearly, this is what you should be doing!”

In such times, Psalm 139 has much to say, acknowledging from the outset our essential transparency:

O God, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (verses 1-3)

Attitude and Altitude

Complex patternsThe spotlight of divine wisdom, if we can find the switch, helps us see through the tangles of our own or others’ making. How that can happen is a personal matter that no set of rules, certainly not a psalm blog, can describe or prescribe.

Attempting to align our frame of reference, our moral compass or our ethical sensibilities with divine wisdom, the creative spirit of verses 13 to 16 quoted below, is surely a good start.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8, 9)

Easier said than done, of course, but hope springs eternal. This is not formally a ‘psalm of ascent’ but that broad sweeping idea of dreaming on a higher plane is certainly present in stirring language typical of psalm poetry. Our selection (verses 1-6, 13-18) straddles but misses this:

Where can I go from your spirit? … If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (verses 8-10)

… and Alternative Angles

What is not missed out, however, is the imagery of intimacy — pre-natal transparency, ultrasound plus. It’s at once captivating and unsettling:

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret … (vv. 13-15)

Incredible, even allowing for doubts about the original textual meaning and interpretation from various sources. This would have been an appropriate song for the gentle leadership of some of our young women and mothers but circumstances, mostly joyful, have intervened.

The concluding lines draw on this transparency and seek that ‘righteousness’ that’s at the heart of Psalm 1 and also here:

Search me, O God, and know my heart … lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23, 24)

Sacred music, BnFFor even more alternative angles on this rich psalm, see also the post on 20 July 2014.

Music

We respond to the verses and in a very short, transparent response from the New century hymnal by Jane Marshall:

Search me O God and know my heart.

All singers welcome as usual, please join in. Short rehearsal Sunday morning. 

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Final image: from 6-part music in Recueil de plusieurs messes, Psaumes, motets, Te Deum & c.a.  MS dated 1630-1682, Bibliotèque Nationale de France

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