Sunday, August 27, 2017

Psalm 52

I have never been more at odds with the timbre of our national voice than I am now. Fortunately, the regular reading of the psalms is helping me accept and even express the myriad feelings that are welling up with distressing regularity. Yet, the psalms do much more than just help us express our anger and dismay; they continually lead us back to God. There, we find our strength and suppleness to continue the work we are called to do while being reminded to seek the sustaining wellsprings of joy in our journey. 

"Why do you boast, O mighty one, 
of mischief done against the godly? 
All day long you are plotting destruction. 
Your tongue is like a sharp razor, 
you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good, 
and lying more than speaking the truth.
​You love all words that devour, 
O deceitful tongue.   
But God will break you down forever; 
he will snatch and tear you from your tent; 
he will uproot you  
from the land of the living. 
But I am like a green olive tree 
in the house of God. 
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever. 
I will thank you forever, 
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful 
I will proclaim your name, for it is good." 
Psalm 52: 1-1-5, 8-9​ NRSV 

In this psalm the selah break helps to redirect us.    
I do not have a picture of an olive tree, but this tree has always been a good neighbor, regardless of the season.    

"​Try to feel the need for prayer often during the day, and take the trouble to pray. Prayer makes the heart large enough until it can contain God’s gift of himself. Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive him, and keep him as your own.​"  

​ Mother Teresa, Simple Gifts, from Plough, Daily Dig, August 27, 2017 


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Psalm 51

"Create a pure heart for me, O God; 
renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from your presence:
take not your holy spirit from me. 
Restore in me the joy of your salvation: 
maintain in me a willing spirit. 
I will teach transgressors your ways, 
that sinners may return to you.    
For in sacrifice you take no delight; 
burnt offerings from me would not please you. 
My sacrifice to God, a broken spirit; 
a broken and humbled heart, 
you will not spurn, O God."

Psalm 51:12-19  
Ecumenical Grail Psalter   
Abba Poeman is one of the more well known desert fathers. Brother Victor tells us that August 27 marks the commemoration of Poeman the Shepherd, and in his entry he includes several of Abba Poeman's wisdom sayings. The one I am including here I edited for inclusive language.  
Abba Poeman said, "If someone has sinned and denies it, saying 'I have not sinned,' do not reprimand; for that will discourage. Instead say, 'Do not lose heart, but in the future be on guard.' Thus, you will stir the soul to repentance."  
Wisdom voices are difficult to hear these days, but the same was true in the time of the desert abbas and ammas, and certainly in the time of Benedict when the Roman empire was crumbling. Thus, they retreated so they could hear God's voice more clearly. Let us all take time to sit with God. We must refuse to be molded by language spoken to belittle, discourage, condemn, confuse, distract, and cover up. That is not the path of Christ and should not be the voice of any nation.   

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Psalm 50

Walter Brueggemann in his book, Praying the Psalms, writes that "Our lives always move between the pit and the wing, between the shattering of disorientation and the gift of life."  I have found this to be true in my own life, and certainly in this journey through the psalms.  Today, we arrive at Psalm 50; we are now one third of our way through this journey that does indeed take us from despair to joy and back again. We are not traveling on a flat plain, but through steep valleys, over jagged mountains, across searing deserts. We learn that God is our only home, even when we stagger there exhausted and confused after doggedly taking too many wrong turns.  
This practice has come to mean much to me. I sense that the LORD must surely love a good struggle, but in this struggle I have found some liberation. My prayer life has deepened.  Why this has happened, I am not sure.  Perhaps in looking at various translations, and discerning what is most appropriate to include in these posts, I have simply spent more time with the psalms than I was expecting. Why I thought it would be simple saunter I do not know. 
Autumn is on the horizon, and that means I have a short holiday coming up as well as a retreat with longtime friends. I will then be taking on some extra work so I believe there will be some days when posting are delayed.  I am fine with that.  This journey is not a race, but rather a "sinking into" my journey with God.  I am grateful.  
In today's psalm we hear God saying enough with the animal sacrifices; what I want is your thanksgiving. While I do not think I know of anyone who practices animal sacrifice,  I know many of us struggle with being so busy we forget to pause and give thanks. Sometimes in our haste we even forget to love. Distraction is not an appropriate sacrifice; ultimately our love is really all we have to give. 

"I will not accept a bull from your house, 
or goats from your folds. 
For every wild animal of the forest is mine, 
the cattle on a thousand hills. 
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.  
If I were hungry I would not tell you, 
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls 
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving 
and pay your vows to the Most High. 
Call on me in the day of trouble; 
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."   
Psalm 50:8-15, NRSV  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Psalm 49

In this psalm we hear Wisdom's voice reminding us that whether we are rich or poor, we all must pass through the gate of physical death. Lynn C. Bauman's translation is beautiful.  This psalm seems particularly touching to me because yesterday I sat and talked with a woman whose husband had recently died.  Her tears overflowed;  I found myself simply saying yes to her sense of loss and grief. What else can one say? 
"For the grave claims back our bodies, 
and angels claim our souls, 
But the One with the power of life and death 
claims you always as its own."   
Psalm 49:15-16
Ancient Songs Sung Anew     
I received the following poem this morning from Joe Riley's Panhala. I remember no dreams from last night, but I do remember that as I heard the story of a great love, the last word of the conversation was thank you. Again, what else can be said?  

Last Night
Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was a spring breaking out in my heart.
I said, "Along what secret aqueduct are you coming to me 
Oh water, water of a new life that I have never drunk."
Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was a beehive here in my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
and sweet honey from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was a fiery sun here in my heart.
It was fiery because it gave warmth as if from a hearth
And it was sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt a marvelous illusion
that there was God here in my heart.
God, is my soul asleep?
Have those beehives who labor by night stopped, and 
the water wheel of thought, is it dry?
The cup's empty, wheeling out carrying only shadows?
No!  My soul is not asleep!  My soul is not asleep!
It neither sleeps nor dreams, but watches, its clear eyes open, 
far off things, and listens, and listens
at the shores of the great silence.
It listens at the shores of the great silence.
~ Antonio Machado ~  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Psalm 48

I have always loved imagining the temple on a mountain.  
"So on God's holy mountain
let the worshipers be glad, 
And in the cities built on earth
the citizens rejoice. 
Gather round God's ancient city, 
a city named for peace. 
Circle round her might walls, 
and count her many towers,
Note well her citadels of strength, 
and tell to all who follow, 
Through her open gates
 God guides us
to eternity forever."   
Psalm 48:11-14
Ancient Songs Sung Anew
Lynn C. Bauman  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Psalm 47

Here in the Bay Area, just about everyone's eyes have been lifted to the sky at least once this day.  People pulled off the freeway.  Paused in parking lots. Shared glasses and exclaimed over strange visions.  Cried out  the collective, "Oh look and see!"  Let's keep up the good work.      
Oh people! Clap your hands
And shout in triumph
God reigns from the heights of wonder
And her power rings the earth 
We are God's roar
And Her stamping foot
We are God's shout of ascension 
and the voice of Her shofar is ours 
God is the power of all this earth 
We are the chorus and the song  
Sing praises to God, sing praises!     
Psalm 47, abridged 
Let Us Praise, Betty Bracha Stone  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Psalm 46

"God is for us a refuge and strength, 
an ever-present help in time of distress: 
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains quake to the 
heart of the sea; 
even though the mountains be shaken 
by its tumult. 
The LORD of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold. 
The waters of a river give joy to God's city,
the holy place, the abode of the Most High. 
God is within her, she cannot be shaken; 
God will help her at the dawning of the day. 
Nations are in tumult, kingdoms are shaken: 
a divine voice roars, and the earth melts away.  
The LORD of hosts is with us: 
the God of Jacob is our stronghold."

Psalm 46:2-8
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter    

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Psalm 45

This psalm is actually a royal wedding song - one that celebrates opulence and power and is interesting to read.  However, the comings and goings of royalty seldom mean very much to me, so I return to Nan C. Merrill.    
"Hear, O peoples, consider and 
incline your ear; 
forget what has gone before you; 
turn your feet to the path of Love.
Open your hearts to the Beloved, 
learn of humility, be blessed 
in brokenness,
For these are the treasures stored 
in eternity."   
Psalm 45, abridged 
Psalms for Praying, 
Nan C. Merrill  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Psalm 44

"Without your saving grace, we come in
conflict with our neighbors, 
we fear all who seem different from us.
We seek to better ourselves at the expense 
of other nations, 
we become arrogant and greedy. 
All day long we run from our disgrace, 
yet our shame is ever before us, 
At the cries of injustice and oppression, 
at the sight of the poor and needy. 
As all this comes upon us, 
we remember You O Infinite Love,
we pray for your support 
in our conflicts.
Our hearts recall your Word, 
your promises of old, 
Yet, does deep darkness overshadow us.
Until crises comes, we forget 
the Name of the Creator, 
we spread forth our hands to 
a worldly god. 
Does not the Most High discover this?
For the Beloved knows the secrets 
of the heart. 
No, Love does not abandon us; 
we ourselves turn our faces 
from the Light. 
Rise up, pray for a change of heart! 
Then will the Indwelling Companion Presence
deliver you with steadfast love."  
Psalm 44, abridged 
Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill    

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Psalm 43

Last night I dreamed that I was in a car that was being driven by a friend who was very tired.  I told him, "You do not have to drive me home. I can get there from here."  I knew this friend would normally not accept that invitation because it was evening, but he was so weary he agreed. Earlier in this dream I was having great fun dancing with a group of people, both children and adults. No wonder I was emboldened to strike out on my own.
"O send forth your light and your truth; 
they will guide me on. 
They will bring me to your holy mountain, 
to the place where you dwell. 
And I will come to the altar of God, 
to God, my joy and gladness. 
To you will I give thanks on the harp, 
O God, my God." 
Psalm 43:3-4    
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Psalm 42, Continued

Yesterday after a meeting, I stopped at a market on my way home. I found myself standing in line behind a woman and her young granddaughter. The grandmother was a bit frazzled, but the child seemed quite content to sit in her stroller.  She was singing to herself, and as I listened, I realized she was actually chanting, "How will you find your way home?" I cannot say for sure, but I got the sense the words had little meaning for her; she was just enjoying the sound of the words and the rhythm. I smiled at the grandmother and said, "Ah, I see you travel with a singer!" She looked at me and rolled her eyes, giving me the sense that she had been hearing that chant for awhile. I then joined my voice with the child's.  That made the woman laugh, and she took the short reprieve to calmly pay for her purchases and get things organized for their journey home. Perhaps this is what all psalmists know: when we stray, we can sing our way back to God.     
I was going to continue with the NRSV version of Psalm 42, but Lynn Bauman's translation is so beautiful, I have decided to share part of it instead.    
My heart is broken, it will not mend. 
Yet I remember in a mountain land beyond this realm, 
on heights of hills that now seem far away,
When the the depths in me called out to touch the depths in you. 
Like roaring waters through great canyons, deep,
your presence there came crashing over me. 
And in the daytime your loving kindness was like a flood
that swept and lifted my soul. 
At night my heart welled up in songs of praise, 
I sang to you, the God of All. 
Why are you troubled, O my soul: 
Why this great despondency, this deep despair?
Await God's grace, God's help in hope, God's care,
A time of praise will surely come 
And bring you to the presence of the One 
who is your saving Lord.  
Psalm 42: 8-11, 15-16 
Ancient Songs Sung Anew  


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Psalm 42, Part 1

Yesterday evening as I was getting into my car, I noticed the parking lot attendant tending to his prayers. We had just finished our Lectio and meditation that is held in our rented room in a first floor corner of the downtown Oakland church building.  He had laid out a prayer rug between his car and a chain link fence; I am sure it did not pad his knees.  The sky had been grey all day, and the evening was a little chilly. I wanted to invite him in, but he was on duty, in more ways than one. Regardless of our faith tradition, we pray where we are, and who we are. I think I will remember this moment for a good long while: a Muslim man kneeling and perhaps envisioning Mecca in a downtown parking lot as the light grew dim.    

"As a deer longs for flowing streams, 
so my soul longs for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God, 
for the living God.   
When shall I come and behold 
the face of God? 
My tears have been my food 
day and night, 
while people say to me continually, 
"Where is your God?" 
These things I remember, 
as I pour out my soul; 
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession 
to the house of God, 
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, 
a multitude keeping festival. 
Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, 
my help and my God." 
Psalm 42:1-5a, NRSV     
More of Psalm 42 and some notes about Book II tomorrow. 

Monday, August 14, 2017


Thought buds toward radiance.  
Mary Oliver  

It is always a gift to meet a tall lily and converse face to face with its beauty.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Psalm 41

Early this morning I dreamed of a beloved elder who died a few years ago.  In the dream, we are trying to give her a blessing at the toll booth before the ambulance takes her to the hospital.  It is chaotic for it is rush hour traffic, but one male figure simply stands on the rail that separates the lanes, lifts his arms, and focuses us with his stillness. We gather ourselves in prayer. Later, we all begin to make arrangements to visit her, and many discussions and even an argument ensue about what we should bring her, and even when to send cards. I was instructed by the one who is most involved in the organizing that I should bring her a potted plant so she could have something to take care of later. I resist. My sense, even in the dream, is that she neither wants nor needs to tend to a house plant. She seems to have no needs at all. I am taken with her beauty and her ease of being. She is clothed in white; her hair is white, and there is brightness all around her that seems to overflow from within her. Yes, she appears old, but also timeless. She simply continues to laugh and smile, regardless of what is going on around her. We, who are trying to tend to her, probably are the ones who need the tending. As I reflect on this dream, I think we overlooked her freedom and apparent joy.  She did not know death, but only life.   
Psalm 41 is a song that asks for healing. Like Job, the psalmist is experiencing people advising him that the illness is deadly. The psalmist feels abandoned by those once friends who are saying, "You will never rise." He turns from them, and prays: 
"Lord, I only ask for mercy now, 
your help in raising me to life 
that I may serve you once again. 
And I will take this as a sign of grace,
if these my many foes do not prevail. 
O lift me back into your life, 
and let me stand again with you."

Psalm 41:8-10
Ancient Songs Sung Anew 
translations by Lynn C. Bauman  
We have come to the end of Book 1 of the Psalms (there are a total of 5). Each book concludes with a benediction. Bauman's translation of Book 1 concludes with: 

"Blessed be God, age after passing age. 
We bless you now, amen, until the end of time."    

I have never taken a journey quite like this one.  I do not think I was quite prepared for the intensity.  I remember that a few months ago I felt the urge to undertake this journey. I paused at Psalm 2 and felt I was not ready.  I may not be entirely ready now, but good traveling companions are surfacing. I feel God's presence and guidance, and I am grateful.  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Psalm 40

"I trusted you, Lord, and waited, 
and you came to answer my plea. 
You lifted me from the pit, 
you pulled me out of the mire, 
you set my feet on firm ground, 
you made my steps unshakable.
You put a new song in my mouth
and gave me the power to praise you. 
You opened me to the truth; 
suddenly my eyes could see it. 
And I knew that you don't care about rituals
or the mummeries of religion. 
The only thing that you want 
is our whole being, at every moment. 
Hold me in your embrace, Lord; 
make me transparent in your light. 
Grant me awareness; keep 
my gratitude fresh each day. 
Let my song give blessing and insight
to those who can't see for themselves. 
And let your compassion always 
shine forth from the depths of my heart." 
Psalm 40 
A Book of Psalms,
Stephen Mitchell  
Read this psalm out loud if possible.  Mitchell's translations are elegant and heartfelt. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Psalm 39

In the summer of 2012 Betty Bracha Stone began what she describes as a "serious Jewish practice: strenuous introspection and prayer during the month of Elul." This practice prepares one for the High Holy Days - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur which I believe begins this year on August 21.  She and a group of other Jewish women committed themselves to supporting one another in this practice that included the tradition of reciting Psalm 27 twice daily. Her struggle with some of the language of the psalm would eventually lead her to writing her own translations and interpretations of Psalm 27 and thirty five other psalms. Her book, Let us Praise, is the result. I have come to believe that struggling with the psalms is a holy endeavor, even if one cannot read Biblical Hebrew. I have always felt a lacking, or an emptiness, for not being able to do so, but I continue the work of learning to trust that God can always make use of inadequacies and empty spaces.   
When I undertook the practice of reading and sharing a psalm a day, I could not find my copy of this book. I was sorry because I remembered the night it was passed on to me by the author's husband as we were leaving a choral gathering. We did not know one another, but he had spotted the clergy sticker on my car, and thought I might appreciate receiving it. Fortunately, it resurfaced in time for Psalm 39. In gratitude, I will copy, in its entirety, this psalm of great poignancy.     
Although some modern translations leave out the word Selah, Bracha Stone includes it. I thought the word appeared only in the psalms, but I have just learned it also appears in the book of Habakkuk. The meaning of the word is unclear. It could be a musical notation or simply an encouragement to pause and make an empty space - an invitation for God to join in.
"Oh, God, I have loved my words
But now I watch lest they betray me
I must guard what I say 
Because I am soon to die 
Yah, You have robbed me of my voice
And sealed my mouth 
Silence has struck me hard 
I must hold my peace 
But my suffering is great 
And goodness does not approach
My heart burns within me 
My meditation is consumed by the fire
And I must speak: 
God! Stop afflicting me!
I am finished by the blow of your hand  
You rebuke me for my foolishness 
My beauty lasted a day 
And has melted like the moth's 
I am only vapor 
Yah, tell me of my end 
Is this my last day? 
I would know of my frailty
You have given me a life hardly worth the measure 
Its duration does not register on your scale 
We are all mist, established for the length of a breath
We walk the dusty road like shadows 
And our plans are all in vain
Even when we heap up treasure 
We do not know who will enjoy it 
Now, where is my hope, O God
Except that it resides with You?  
Deliver me from my failings
Do not make me the scorn of fools 
Oh, God, listen to my prayer!
Give ear to my cry!
Do not respond to my tears with silence 
I am a newcomer to you 
As are we all - just sojourners 
Turn your sweet gaze toward me and I will find comfort 
Then you will gather me in your dark embrace 
Then I will go. I will be no more" 
Please note that there is only one period in this psalm, and it occurs in the middle of the last line.  Also, the author writes of the word, Yah: "It derives from the pronunciation of the first two letters of the unpronounceable four-letter name for God. It is spoken with an out-breath and I think of it as a spiritual sigh."