Category Archives: psalms

Psalm 6

(First published July 20, 2011.)

blankIt happens all the time in songs (and in stories.)

For the first two verses, everything is bad. And then the hero comes, the story turns, the cavalry arrives, the light dawns. We love to read these stories, to sing these songs, because they give us hope. The first two verses are exactly where we are. Adrift, in pain, needing relief, wanting answers. The last verse is where we want to be, acknowledged, accompanied, heard. And when the writer lived the words, all the better.

The practical among us don’t understand these songs: “Why include the doubting parts? They aren’t true, you know. The hero was watching all along.” But practical people, deep down, need hope too.

That’s why this song from the practical poet David can speak to all of us.

A reflection on Psalm 6.

God.

I know that you may be angry with me.
But if you are, please wait til you cool off before you punish me.
I am already fainting; please have mercy on me.
And the ache goes to my very bones;
I need healing more than I need more pain.
Inside and out, I am falling apart.
Can you please speak to me?
I feel like I’ve been waiting forever.

Change your mind and deliver me from all this.
Remember, dead followers can’t say good things about you.
And they can’t remember you very well either.

I groan and sigh all the time.
I can’t sleep at night,
the sofa is soaked with tears
My eyes are bloodshot
And all I can see is my enemies.

***

You know what, enemies,
you can just leave now.
God has heard me crying out
I’ve kept him up with my weeping.
And he finally heard.
And he’s coming for you.
You are going to run scared.

 

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An old new song.

(First published October 15, 2012.)

I’ve never talked with you about Psalm 121. It’s a song that strengthens me. When my heart sings it, I am encouraged. It has been shaping me for several decades but I’ve never talked with you about it.

IMG_2172.JPG“The sun will not smite me by day, nor the moon by night.” That’s not exactly how the NIV reads, but it is how Bernstein included this Psalm in “A Simple Song“. I started singing those words, the phrases from Psalm 121 in college. Not out loud; for to me to sing outside my head encourages no one. But the musical blend of dissonance and resolve in this piece reflects the lyrical dissonance and resolve in the Psalm itself. Somehow, singing the lines strengthens me.

When Eugene Peterson writes about that passage (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction), he asks, “How can the moon smite you?”, then talks about the struggles we have in the dark, the doubts that creep, the questions that rob us of sleep. Peterson’s explanation of the lyricist’s imagery makes sense. And comforts.

I realized why I haven’t talked about this song. It’s easy to treat it as an assertion and to offer counterexamples. When the psalmist says, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life,” it is possible to say, “But what about the time that evil hurt my friend, my daughter, me?” When the psalmist says, “He will not let your foot be moved”, we say, “But what about the time my friend did slip?”

And so, to avoid the argument, I’ve not mentioned the song. In the process, I’ve not pointed you to this pilgrim song, sung for generations on their way to Jerusalem. I apologize. We need anthems that teach large truths even while we sort out specific events.

+++

I’m sharing this again because I just heard the song, song by a high school member of the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. And as I listened, I remembered my friend Chris Gattis who read this post and worked to get the song into his church choir. And now he’s singing it. Or something better.

Psalm 1.

(First published July 13, 2011)

When you pick up a book of poetry or a book of song lyrics, you have to work.

You cannot read Gerard Manley Hopkins or W.H. Auden or Bono the same way you read Malcolm Gladwell or Donald Miller. With poems, you have to stop often, read out loud at times, look in your heart for images and understanding.

The book of Psalms is a book of poetry. It takes time to read and reread. But that what keeps people going back.

Here’s a reflection of the first of the psalms.

Psalm 1

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, now, does it

if a person wanting to live a blessed life

gets all his advice from people who are against God

or walks along a path that leads away from God

or sits on the sidelines being snarky all the time.

Instead, think what would happen if she decided

to focus on God’s words

like words from a lover

and day and night reflected on them.

It’d be like a planting a tree right by a river,

roots well watered,

branches bearing great fruit.

The things people like that do, they prosper somehow.

A person who is against God isn’t going to grow this way.

Without the water of life, you end up more like chaff,

the hull on the outside of a grain of wheat,

blowing away in the harvest wind.

At the end of everything, when considering how life was lived,

the ones who chose to be wicked

will find their legs collapsing under them.

And the ones who joyfully wanted “sinner” as their pursuit

will find no room in the “righteous” section.

Those who trail along after God

find protection along the way.

Those who are committed to avoiding that path

will find themselves among the ruins.

You may be moved.

There are times when I watch something or read something or hear something that makes me stop, makes me weep. This video brings together four people whose relationship accomplished that stopping.

I’ve been shaped by Eugene Peterson for thirty years. I read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction when I was teaching speech in the late 80’s. I’ve been talking about Psalms 120-134 ever since.

I’ve been shaped by Bono for eight years. A friend introduced me to the spiritual songs of U2 long after I should have discovered them. I have listened often to “Yahweh” while driving to church early on Sunday morning.

I discovered the importance of Jan Peterson when I read The Pastor, Eugene’s autobiography. His description of their partnership has been poking at me, and at Nancy and I. We want to be better at working together in helping people. And when we watched Jan taking homemade cookies off the cookie sheet for Bono, we both teared up.

I’ve been shaped by God since, well, since before I can remember. And I’ve walked through the journey with His word described in this video from facts and lists to rich imagination and deep layers of interaction.

So you may understand why I was so moved to see all these people together in one video, talking about words which have also been part of that process (psalms). The location, the quiet, the conversation, the living room. I was challenged and humbled and inspired.

I don’t expect everyone, or perhaps anyone, to find this video as captivating as I did. But for a glimpse into what has formed me, this video may help.

And for more on reading the psalms from the project that produced the video, here: Bono and Eugene Peterson.

Every Monday

First published October 8, 2012

It happens every Monday morning.

Every Monday is a restart of our pilgrimage. Every Monday we say, “I want this week to be different. I want to be more committed, more caring, more thoughtful, more loving, more focused, more significant, more successful.”

And then we open our eyes. And shuffle to the mirror. And the words of the psalmist become words in our bathroom: “I call on the Lord in my distress.”

Our resolve and our dreams and our plans run into “lying lips and deceitful tongues.”

Have you heard them yet today? “This food will give you fulfillment, not just fill you up  That candidate is the worst. These three simple steps will make your life easy. You will never amount to anything.”

Some come from a screen. Some come from faces we know. Many come from the mirror. All run the risk of derailing us. And when we clear our head (and drink a little coffee) we warn the lying voices:

May the way your words stab my heart be pierced the way a warrior’s arrows find their target. May the way your lies cause fires in relationships and raise the gossip heat be burned away with coals of a broom tree.

The images seem harsh, but no harsher than lies and deception deserve when we consider the disruption they bring to pilgrimage.

Every Monday we start new, we will be challenged. We live in inertia. When we want to change our eating, we are surrounded by food ads. When we want to claim our team colors, we are surrounded by opposing fans. When we want to wage peace, we are surrounded by heckling hate.

But a pilgrimage always starts with one step. In the right direction. Like the people who sing Psalm 120 on the way to follow God.