Sadness

I find psalms a bit like many worship songs, although not in the way you are probably thinking. I can sing them, while the words glide over me without touching the sides. I have just not been paying attention. Living with a single psalm for a while has caused me to stop and work out what is actually going on. It also alerts me to how little attention I had been paying, as they both puzzle and challenge in complex ways – like many good poems should.

From the first, psalm 14 struck me with its pathos. The fool has said in his heart. And I am left saddened for the fool. Saddened too that God looks down and can find nobody seeking him and doing right. Yet, as I read on, I find that pathos abruptly challenged as I read that the fool is also devouring God’s people. It is harder to feel sorrow for your persecutor, and yet it is a double folly, given that God is our protector. Yet, oddly, when God was looking down, God saw nobody doing right. God’s people were not listed as an exception. Maybe I should not make too much of that. Poetic license and all, yet, it is a little strange.

The psalm ends with a question that reaches out in hope. A hope that was eventually fulfilled, but in an unexpected and so was largely missed. The psalmist was looking towards Zion for salvation, for God to restore his people. He was not expecting it to look like the son of God being nailed on a cross. And so now, there is a sadness to for the psalmist and the Jewish people.

It is difficult to know what to make of the psalm, but it does leave me sad. Sadness that our world today is full of those who say there is no God. A sadness too for those who have missed him in his unexpectedness.

Awesome Wonder

There are times when everything seems too much, my mind swirling, my eyes firmly locked on an oncoming train. I have just one cure. A high place. Fortunately, I have a park nearby, where, looking in one direction I see the centre of London and in another fields and open country side. Before long, my perspective begins to change. What was once an overwhelming problem shrinks before the awesomeness of the world God has made. I breath a sigh of relief.

I mention this, because this is what psalm 8 speaks to me about. It has always been a favourite psalm of mine, although, perhaps, this is the first time I have given it serious attention. I had never before noticed how it reflects the opening chapter of Genesis, where God makes the heavens and the earth and then fills it, creating man in his image (a little lower than God) and setting him to rule his creation. The parallel images are too close to ignore, which then makes verse 2 stand out, quite out of place: “From the mouths of infants and sucklings you have founded strength on account of your foes, to put an end to enemy and avenger”. That is not in the first chapter of Genesis. It is also somewhat puzzling as to what the psalmist is trying to say.

Whatever the psalmist intended, it leaves me with the sense that it is about the strength that comes from considering the work of God. Which is where we came in. But if psalm 8 also is a reflection of the opening of Genesis, what is this doing here? The mention of infants and sucklings calls to mind that Adam and Eve, were in their infancy, new born into creation. When tested, Eve (and I assume Adam) chose a different strategy. Theirs was to add to the command they had been given. To protect themselves from eating, they have decided they were not even going to touch it. Their strategy did not work. So, maybe the psalmist is placing this verse in opposition to what happened in the beginning. A start reminder of what happened, but also and alternative narrative that we can apprehend for ourselves. Strength does not come from our rules (we must not touch), but in the wonder of the world God has made.

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Selah

I’ve heard it said that when David broke one of the strings on his lyre, he’d exclaim, “Selah”! Perhaps that was said tongue in cheek, but it does bring out the fact that nobody actually knows what it means. Some modern translations (like the NIV) appear to have given up and just ignored it entirely. I mention this, because this post is somewhat off piste from my routine of going through the psalms. I am pausing to consider, which, by coincidence, is one popular (but unsubstantiated) guess at the word’s meaning.

Going through one psalm a week has proved less helpful than I had hoped. Or at least, that is how it feels. Already themes are beginning to repeat themselves, often related to a request for God to bless me, while poking out the eyes of my enemies with a pencil. Maybe not quite that, they didn’t have pencils. So, at one psalm a week and 150 psalms, I may have bitten off more than I really want to chew. Yet, I believe there is still value in what I am doing doing, I just need to be more selective. So, rather than doing every psalm, I will continue with just those psalms that are referenced in the New Testament, starting with the ones that are referenced more than once, which, as Psalm 2 has already been covered, makes for a grand list of ten. After that I will review again.

However, one curious thing has struck me. Psalm 23, which must be the most popular psalm in churches today, isn’t referrenced in the New Testament at all, not even once. Odd that. I’ve no idea why, but I do find it interesting…

 

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Clockwork

I used to be an amateur horologist and repair clocks. I mention this, because that is where my meditations on Psalm 5 led me, albeit by a circuitous route. You see, the more I considered what the psalmist was saying, the less it seemed worth saying. He seems to be mainly praying for God to listens to the righteous, but not the wrongdoer. This is surely a given. So I had to ask myself, what was going on?

The psalmist appears to be experiencing a disconnect. The truth he knows is being challenged by those who want to defraud him. So, he is praying that the realities of heaven would be manifest on earth. Which is all very well, but how does that effect me, where my reality of the Kingdom is also being confronted, not by fraud, but by my recent back injury and cold? Which is where clocks come in.

When I was (much) younger, I would go to jumble sales and buy broken clocks and watches, strip them down and rebuild them. Oddly, I thought that was fun. I got to be quite good with clocks, although, few watches survived. The parts of a watch must all be very carefully aligned before the back can be replaced, or the pins bend. Something that was all to easy to do. To function well, everything must be aligned and working as intended. Which seems close to the Hebrew idea of Shalom. It means more than peace. It conveys the idea of the right ordering of things. Everything in its proper place and working as God intended, peacefully. Like a clock, finely calibrated.

When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are asking for God’s right order to be established – the blind seeing, the lame walking, of course. However, as Kingdom ambassadors, we are also called to show the way – which is what much of Jesus teaching was about. And, as in a clock, everything is inter-related. We can’t ask God to restore order, while we continue to bring disarray. So, the psalmist asks God to help him walk God’s path.

So, while we want the blind to see, that is only part of God’s wider shalom, a shalom that we cannot separate ourselves from. We need God’s help to allow us to act in ways that restore right order – by loving God and neighbour. I look towards the day when I see more healing, but, for today, I have enough to do with my part!

Shalom.

 

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The One and the Many

We are in a minority. I’m sure, many would argue against that, but that is because they confuse a religious facade for its content. We are in a minority, and always have been. The person portrayed in Psalm 4 speaks out as the voice of the one to the many. He (or maybe she) asks them how long they will seek after vanity and illusions and calls on them to turn to God. They do not appear to be listening. Like so many today, they are too busy seeking happiness, but totally unaware from whom it is found. It is only the psalmist who knows the answer. For all the apparent wealth (and wine) of the many, the psalmist declares that his joy is richer and that he is also able to sleep in peace, resting secure.

In our world, we focus on results. We preach the good news, we don’t see any results, and we give up. Yet, the psalmist shows no sign of discouragement. He has called the people to respond to God. The fact that they do not does not disturb him. After all, for him, as for us us, there is no guarantee of being listened to. Indeed, Jesus warns us to expect even worse. The response is not our concern. Nor is it our concern that they seem to be outwardly doing better than we are, or that many around us say that we are the ones living an illusion. They can point to their stores of wealth, to their pleasures in wine. These are real. Yet we have a different reality. Our joys are richer and we we are secure. We also sleep well at night.