Summer 2009 - Psalm Reflections
                                       by Barbara Shanahan.

       Week 1  Week 2   Week 3   Week 4   Week 5
       
        Week 6   Week 7   Week 8   Week 9   Week 10

Psalm Reflections - Week 1
Introduction and Psalms 3 and 4

For 3rd and 4th Year students in the CBS, our year ended with several weeks of study of the psalms.  In addition to this, Gina Hens-Piazza invited us to focus our attention on "Encountering God in the Psalms" at our Lenten Day of Prayer in April.   Now, this will be our 3rd summer of opening ourselves to the riches of the Psalter.  Inhabiting the psalms, letting them enfold us, will yield rich results.  It seems these prayers are perfect for summer reflection.  If you are a newcomer to our web-site, you will find the past reflections under "Library".  

Taking account of the psalms we have considered in previous summers, I could make 2 observations:

1.  There is no order to the psalms that have been chosen.  This ease of
     entry into the Psalter speaks of what we have called "the randomness of
     the Psalter".   As life is a mix of feelings, occasions and situations, so
     the Psalter sets before us a range of responses and petitions to God. 
     They are as varied as life!  And they are not organized in any observable
     way just as life also 'happens' to us without any perceptible order.  The
     constant in the psalms and for us in life is God whose love is faithful and
     everlasting.

2)  That if I were to revisit any of the psalms we have considered in previous
     years, I would find new things there!  I am a different person, life has
     changed, my relationship with God has changed and how one or other
     psalm invites me into prayer is also going to be different.  The word of
     God is living and always speaks anew to us!  How amazing it is to
     realize this!

Psalm 3 and 4

These seem to be "companion psalms".   Psalm 3 is a morning prayer: "I lie down, I sleep and I wake…" (vs 6).   Psalm 4 would appear to be a night prayer: "Safe and sound, I lie down and sleep (vs 9).     Both of these are simple prayers of humble trust placed in God.  I think you can easily find yourself praying either of these psalms. 

In previous years we have outlined a way of reading and praying with a psalm over a series of days.  Try to pray the psalm in the morning and evening.  That works well with these psalms as they are one a morning and one a night prayer!  Jot down your thoughts on paper or in a journal (notebook).  The  simple outline is as follows:

  • Day 1…focus on simply reading the psalm, becoming familiar with the words and note what strikes you.
  • Day 2...note the repetition of words, parallelism, the images the writer uses and how these touch your thoughts.  Which stand out for you?
  • Day 3…are there any reminders of Israel's past?  EG: creation, covenant, exodus, exile, etc. (footnotes and cross references can prove helpful)
  • Day 4…How does the psalm take on new meaning?  As Jesus might have prayed it, as the early Church might have prayed it.
  • Day 5…How does the psalm speak to you in your life today?  How is the psalm now "yours" after settling down with it for these days?

Remember what is happening is that the word of God speaks to you, opening you  and inviting you to reflect on your life, your relationship with God, your dealings with others. 

One thing that may stand out at first is that the enemy seems to be everywhere, rising up and taunting. (vs 2-3).    At first, we might not identify with such imagery, but one key to finding meaning in the psalms is the ability to see the references as having meaning for us today.  The "enemy" need not be a person; an enemy can be any number of things: thoughts, fears, distractions, anxieties that rise up against us each day.   Do these not taunt us, seeking to take away from us the confidence that faith would incline us to place in God? 

Your translation may introduce this psalm as  "The prayer David prayed when fleeing from Absalom".   Many psalms have such captions.  We should not literally read the psalm as the words of David.  Doing so really takes away a fuller meaning this psalm might have for us.  The caption reminds us of the troubled relationship between this father and son. (see 2 Sam13-19).   David, in the tradition of Israel is the model of one in right relationship with God, even when he sins, he repents in a way that serves as a model for us to emulate (see Ps 51).  So praying Ps 3 in light of the human experience of abandonment and betrayal, of fractured family relationships,  how is one to trust in God?  How should one respond?  The psalm sets before us the ideal of total confidence. 

The psalm begins, as we have noted, with the mention of the "foe".  Literally, in Hebrew, this means to shut or close off, to limit or restrict.  This  idea is balanced by the twice mentioned 'deliverance' or 'salvation' (yeshu'ah vs 8-9) --  the  root and meaning of the name "Jesus"!   Again, in Hebrew, "salvation" literally means a largeness or abundant spaciousness.   Note how the "enemy" hems one in but "salvation" creates an openness!  Consider how the various "enemies" within our life have the tendency to close us off from the vitality of living and, once freed from these or from their power over us, we can also feel the freedom of deliverance, of salvation.    And the psalmist finds such confidence in the closeness of God and the trusting relationship that has been forged.  Mention of sleep suggests a time when we are most defenseless.   Sleep also suggests tranquility and peacefulness and the Lord's abiding throughout the night. 

"But you, Lord, are a shield about me, my glory who lift up my head" (Ps 3:4).  The word "shield" occurs in Genesis 15, within the context of the covenant made between God and Abraham.   God says to Abraham  "I will be your shield".  Mention of this brings us back to ponder the unconditional  promises made by God to Abraham and his descendents.  This trust in God's faithfulness continues to fire the confidence of this psalmist, beset by trouble, yet trusting in God completely.   The covenant relationship and all that bond implies stands at the heart and center of the psalms.   It gives the basis for confidence, the rationale for lament the reason for praise and  source of thanksgiving!  It is a bright thread woven throughout the history of Israel and contents the wise in their search for understanding. 

It surely it is possible to imagine Jesus praying both these psalms at various moments of his life.   We too might imagine any number of situations when these prayers provide the words to express our feelings and our desire to hold on confidently to God's reliable strength in our life. 
       "Safe and sound, I lie down and sleep,
               for you alone, O Lord, keep me secure" (Ps 4:9)

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