Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on God’s law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does he prospers.
The wicked are not so but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
When our children were young, my husband created a lively tune for Psalm 1 so we could all memorize it. They are in their 40’s now and still can sing this RSV version of the anchor psalm of the psalter.
The anchor psalm
I call it the ‘anchor psalm’ because the editors of Israel’s hymnal organized the 150 psalms quite meticulously into five books, each with their own internal theology.
The creators of Israel’s hymnbook understood that Psalm 1 sets the tone not only for Book I but also for the entire collection of poems that sing the life of Israel.
Be gracious to me, O God for all day long foes oppress me.
O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me?
Psalm 56 acknowledges both the grittiness of life and the grace of God.
The psalmist has “enemies” who constantly “stir up strife; they lurk, they watch my steps.” The Message paraphrased Bible puts it this way: “they smear my reputation and huddle to plot my collapse. They gang up on me…”
This kind of conflict within our relationships can tear us apart and wear us down until we have no emotional energy left.
I’ve been there – feeling trampled, disrespected, disregarded. Have you?
But in the midst of this grinding turmoil, the psalmist sees this grace:
You have kept count of my tossings; you put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?
I love this image!
Each one of my tears gathered in a bottle and remembered/honored/redeemed by the Holy One.
I’ve been overwhelmed with images of children and parents separated from each other at our southern border. Psalm 142 conjures up feelings of dismay and despair as I picture these vulnerable people crying out for rescue and for the restoration of their families.
They have hidden a trap for me;
Look to the right and see for there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul.
It must feel like a “trap” for these parents fleeing the violence and chaos of their homelands and making their way to this so-called “land of the free.” Surely it feels lonely and confusing when they don’t understand the language or the legal system. Even if they accept deportation, how do they leave their children behind?
Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.
Those of us who have earned some gray hairs come from a lifetime of experiences that shape our perspectives. We are able to carry a long vision that allows us insights that were not possible when we were younger.
The Two Halves of Life
Father Richard Rohr follows Carl Jung as they developed understandings about “the two halves of life.” During the first half, we build our sense of identity and security. During the second half, we seek a deeper sense of purpose.
How blessed are the ones who consider the helpless;
The Lord will deliver in a day of trouble;
The Lord will protect and keep alive
And they shall be called blessed upon the earth.
Psalm 41 completes “Book 1” of the Psalms. This psalm begins much as Psalm 1 begins: with a beatitude.
Blessed are the ones who take consideration for the helpless, the weak, the poor. It is these considerate ones who are blessed upon the earth.
The psalmist affirms once again a crucial theme of the First Book of the Psalms: the gracious and compassionate God is particularly committed to the weak, the poor, the needy and afflicted, the humble, meek and oppressed.
Liberation Theologies are drawn from this understanding and assert that God holds a “preferential option for the poor.”
Consequently those of us humans who also commit ourselves to these helpless ones are behaving the way God behaves and we too are blessed as we emulate the compassion of Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer.
Then our poet makes clear that he sees himself as one of the “helpless ones.”
He details some of the treacherous acts of his enemies and pleads for God’s intervention and salvation.
Even my close friend whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
The treachery of a close friend, a person who has shared bread and trust – this kind of “enemy” brings especial grief and sorrow.
Weeping may linger for the night but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30 sings some of our favorite phrases of hope and redemption.
You have turned my mourning into dancing.
In our Living in The Story readings, this psalm is coupled with the story of Job and seems to echo his experience. Job’s prosperity was plunged into lengthy devastation before he was restored to well being.
Job and Psalm 30 demonstrate the paradigm Walter Brueggemann articulates when he describes states of Orientation, Disorientation and New Orientation.
This is our human experience, Brueggemann believes, and The Psalms (and the characters in Job) speak to those back and forth, up and down cycles of confidence and confusion.