Last summer we did the first of this series of Psalm Reflections. You will find these in the CBS "Archives" on this website. In these reflections we laid some basic groundwork for how to approach a psalm for personal prayer. Although we will review some of this, you may find it helpful to revisit these earlier reflections.
The psalms are of immense value for prayer and praise, individually and communally. Often we need some help entering into them. As with most of the Bible, a little insight and background will help us get to the heart of the message and enable us to encounter the word of God as a living word that speaks to us, here today, where we are in our life. This is the intention of these brief reflections. At the end of the series last year, I gratefully acknowledged my love of the psalms as a legacy instilled within me by my friend and teacher, Father Carroll Stuhlmueller. I also acknowledge with gratitude the community of Benedictine monks at Conception Abbey with and from whom I have learned to treasure them in prayer. Here we have an important balance: prayer and thoughtful study. One without the other misses the mark and leaves us ungrounded.
There is a task laid out for YOU. To make use of these reflections, most of the work is left between yourself and God. YOU are the one who must take the time, make the effort to pray the psalm during the week, as suggested, at least two times (morning and evening). It is YOU who must not become bored or think: "well there is nothing more for me to get out of this, let's move on to the next one". Stay with it, quietly listening and being arrested by a word or an image (mental picture). Be attentive to the way one line repeats in different words the thoughts of the previous line. This is called "parallelism", a major characteristic of Hebrew poetry. Note the repetition of words. This is a clue to their importance. Try to hear references to previous events in the Bible (creation, exodus, exile, covenant promises, etc). These may be simple echoes or direct references. You will draw on things you have studied in your CBS classes. Then, wait for the ways you will "hear" God speak to you through this dedication of time to prayer. Blessings will come to you in surprising ways, often outside the time of prayer!
Psalm 19…. "The heavens proclaim the glory of God … The law of the Lord is perfect"
In the Psalter we find a variety of psalms. In broad strokes, they can be divided between prayers of petition or prayers of praise. The beginning of Psalm 19 is a prayer of praise to God. This is easily seen. The second half (vs 8-15) is a Wisdom Psalm. In the Bible, wisdom has a range of meanings. Here it has to do with our being in right relationship with God. A truly wise person possesses a sense of this and grows into such an attitude through prayer.
PRAISE: vs 2-7… How readily we can understand what the psalmist is saying as we too experience the sun bursting forth with greater ardor these beginning days of the summer time! This light of early day is wordless praise (no voice, no speech, no word!) that proclaims God's works, God's message, God's story. When we pray, we don't have to busy our mind with words. Note here that it is silence that proclaims and makes God known. God pours forth in silence! And like an antiphonal choir, day and night praise God! The penetrating light and heat of the sun exposes all things including the thoughts of our heart.
WISDOM: Vs 8-15… Once aware of the greatness of God, one rightly reflects on this God with whom we are in relationship. This God who is so close to us, reveals himself to us in the only way we can perceive -- through the created world that surrounds us. The wise person readily acknowledges the distance that separates us from such a God! This deep-seated reverence for God is what we mean by the expression "Fear of the Lord". It implies a disposition of reverence and humility and devotion. We are out of our element in the presence of so great a God! So how then do we relate to this God who we cannot live with and cannot live without?
The answer given is in following the way of the Lord our God. For Israel, this is summed up in the requirement to observe TORAH. Commonly translated as "Law", TORAH really has a deeper and richer meaning. It is guidance and instruction for living. Psalm 1 (this is in the 10 psalms we reflected with last summer) suggests that the happy and blessed person is one who ponders (literally "mutters" all the day) the decrees, words, instructions of God. The wise person is guided throughout each day by the ways of God. Notice that this implies a greater attentiveness than simply "keeping the commandments". The ways/words of God delight us, refresh us, gladden us, bring us wisdom and light, and should never be far from our mind.
As the sun penetrated the created world, touching everything with its light and heat, so too, the instruction and words and ways of God guide us constantly and reveal our innermost thoughts and motives. They reveal our faults and hold them up for scrutiny. We are humbled to acknowledge our human limitations and our sinfulness before this God whose protection and favor we rely upon. Without the guidance of God's TORAH, we are unable to know our way.
The final line of the Psalm addresses God: "The Lord my rock and my redeemer". "Rock" is an image of God that is easily pondered by us. "Redeemer" (in Hebrew: Go'el) implies a bond of kinship; the blood bond that required one to help and protect their kin. In the Bible, God often becomes the go'el; the family member who is bound to protect and rescue those who belong to him and for whom he is bound to give his life. This is a bold statement of faith!
Something more to consider:
Read Matthew Chapter 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount). Here we learn more about the "Law of the Lord". How does this expand your own understanding of what is expected of us?
How have you found that the "word, instruction, guidance" of the Lord is refreshing, sweet, desirable?
You may find it helpful to keep a journal of your daily thoughts and reflections. Perhaps it is also helpful to formulate some of these as prayer to God…prayer of praise or petition. Writing out your responses to the questions may also be helpful. Perhaps one verse from the psalm stays with you. Try to memorize this.
This is not intended to be a "study"…but a prayerful balance to your year of study. Just let the word of God refresh you…as the psalm says!