Friday, January 11, 2008

Yesterday's Psalm 139

I don't know if this has to do with my so far half-baked Epiphany resolution involving some kind renewed attention to contemplation and/or receptivity to Godde's grace, but I received a new insight into Psalm 139. New to me, anyway.

I love the Psalms and pray them often.

So yesterday, in search of scriptural solace and focus for my day, I turned to online Morning Prayer* and decided to pray the morning Psalms aloud. I often find this (saying the Psalms aloud) makes a difference and slows me down.

* Handy thing to do if you are overly internet-focused: make the first visit in the morning to the Daily Office site. THEN go to the news, the blogs, the e-mail inbox, or whatever lures you most strongly.

Psalm 138 and 139 were the Psalms appointed for the day.

Many of you know Psalm 139 (Lord, you have searched me and known me...). It's one of the oldie goodies, like Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd...) and Psalm 42 (As a deer longs for flowing streams...) and Psalm 51 (Have mercy on me, O God..., a.k.a. the Miserere) and Psalm 121 (I lift up my eyes to the hills...). In consequence, we often have trouble hearing it in a new key. *

* Handy tip: try reading a different translation if a text has gone stale for you. If you speak more than one language, read it in your second (or third) language. If neither of those is a possibility, try the read-aloud option. You may be amazed.

By God's grace I heard the Psalm in a new key.

For some reason, Psalm 139 had taken on for me a combination of "God knows everything about you" (a sort of divine CIA writ large) and "Hound of Heaven" meanings. * Nota bene: I loathe "The Hound of Heaven." Words cannot express how much I can't stand that poem and most of the spirituality it contains. Doesn't do it for me. Feels violent. Doesn't feel like Godde. Is not my experience. (It may be yours. Good. Stick with it, then.)

This time, it didn't echo within in the same way. This time, the words felt more like "God is there to undergird every one of your steps." They were about the reliability of Godde. They were about the presence of God, not as someone who hounds us, but as someone upon whom we can lean.

Presence, not pursuer.

The "knowledge too wonderful for me," the limbs written in God's book, those led to marvel and mystery and contemplation.

More I cannot say, but this gives you a flavor of the experience.

How it is that two people, or the same person on different days or at different times in life, can hear or read the same words differently?

Interpretation matters and context matters and the Bible is not a static book. It is as alive as we are and as the Holy Spirit is.

I am just grateful that this Psalm has been redeemed for me and that it led me into "wonder, love, and praise." (Not the hymn, though I do love it; thank you, Charles Wesley.)

Yes, I varied the spelling of God/de on purpose. Take your pick or use 'em both.


Jane R said...

Thanks for the kind comment in the post below, Paul.

Jane R said...

In case any of you come back to these Comments -- here's a somewhat different take on Psalm 139 from Anne Kennedy's sermon today (Sunday, January 27, 2008).