Background. A personal lament. The seventh penitential psalm. Standard boiler-plate pleas against enemies are set, unexpectedly and intriguingly, alongside unusual calls for Yahweh’s assistance in following the torah. The poet humbly acknowledges “no one living is righteous before you.” He is clearly someone committed to moral goodness and by “enemies” he may very well have meant obstacles to his uprightness and fidelity.
Reflection. The human condition is intrinsically conflicted. The same organismic energy that inclines us to generosity and compassion also impels us to take care of ourselves. The disciplines of transformation that we practice are intended to bring those two apparently disparate inclinations together, so that our desires and cravings become focused on giving and serving the totality ― others! The awareness of the gap between these spontaneous urges can generate a sense of guilt. But there is no time or need for that. No “god” has been offended by our failure to bring these two aspects of our organism together. If we have failed anyone it is ourselves and the community that depends on us. We are committed to the process. We call on LIFE itself, the LIFE that is emergent in us, to be all we are, so that the gap disappears and we become as LIFE itself: generous, loving and compassionate servants of all.
1 Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness; answer me in your righteousness.
2 Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
This apposition is revealing. No one is righteous for the enemy crushes us and makes us sit in darkness. Where has LIFE, my LIFE, disappeared to? Who is this enemy?
3 For the enemy has pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
5 I remember the days of old, I think about all your deeds, I meditate on the works of your hands.
I am my own worst enemy. My meditation is on LIFE. I know the power and the direction of LIFE, why is it not operative in me? Who’s failing here … is it me or LIFE? In any case, it is the LIFE that is in me that can do what needs to be done.
6 I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
8 Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Unashamed, I call on LIFE. I know LIFE is not separate or distinct from me, but I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know what else to do but cry out to LIFE. It is LIFE, after all, that I am; and it is LIFE that I want to be in all my actions.
9 Save me, O LORD, from my enemies; I have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life. In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.
Clearly, here, the poet juxtaposes moral righteousness and the enemies. The enemies must be the enemies of righteousness. No wonder the modern psalmist sees them as the enemies of the torah, the dharma … the doubts, fears, self-denigration, attachments, addictions, defense mechanisms that prevent us from sticking with the practices that will, little by little, transform us into the mirrors and agents of LIFE.
12 In your steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am your servant.
Background. Murphy believes this is a royal psalm, a prayer by and for the king. He suggests it was modelled on psalm 18. The king is the ultimate warrior, the servant-defender of the nation against foreign enemies; Yahweh fights with him against these forces who lie and scheme, with chaos and death in the balance; he plays the harp anew like David and relies on Yahweh; he prays for the health, strength and prosperity of the people, for which he is responsible and will be judged. He is the servant of all.
Reflection. The tribalism/nationalism symbolized by the warrior king has been superseded in our time. Our nations are now neighboring families protected under the umbrella of a universal humankind that increasingly characterizes our politics and power distributions. If anyone can be called “king” metaphorically it is individuals who strive to be the servants of humankind ― the totality of LIFE’s evolved offspring. They struggle against the forces that would alienate us from one another, resurrecting a tribalism that feeds on war as its fuel and identity. Their ultimate goal is the good of each and all, the prosperity and distributive justice that will ensure that everyone’s sons and daughters will be strong and healthy. LIFE can be thought of as fighting alongside such warriors, but it is only a poetic allusion. For in fact the reality is fiercely literal: those who fight such battles are LIFE itself in combat mode.
1 Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;
2 my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues the peoples under me.
I am the agent of LIFE. LIFE’s struggles are mine; the forces within all of us that would militate against the goals of LIFE will be subdued by the power of LIFE. I train and discipline myself in preparation for the struggle. The community depends on it.
3 O LORD, what are human beings that you regard them, or mortals that you think of them?
4 They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.
What is my organism except the evolved form LIFE has assumed. The collection of atoms and molecules that comprise my body would be nothing but a mass of protoplasm ― impotent ― if they were not alive. It is the fact that they are LIFE, living matter, that reveals their power.
5 Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down; touch the mountains so that they smoke.
6 Make the lightning flash and scatter them; send out your arrows and rout them.
I am awed by that power … and that power is mine, for I am LIFE. I must stay in shape or that power is lost.
7 Stretch out your hand from on high; set me free and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hand of aliens,
8 whose mouths speak lies, and whose right hands are false.
The waters of chaos and oblivion are no match for the power of LIFE. Entropy would deceive us, it would persuade us that LIFE is an illusion. All must succumb to entropy.
9 I will sing a new song to you, O God; upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,
10 the one who gives victory to kings, who rescues his servant David.
I sing of LIFE which knows how to wrest the energy from entropy and turn it into LIFE.
11 Rescue me from the cruel sword, and deliver me from the hand of aliens, whose mouths speak lies, and whose right hands are false.
I know LIFE directly. I am not dismayed by entropy’s boasts. LIFE’s generous abundance is driven to expand LIFE. LIFE ― matter’s living energy ― constitutes my organism. Where it goes, I go; what it does, I do. I am THAT.
12 May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars, cut for the building of a palace.
13 May our barns be filled, with produce of every kind; may our sheep increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields,
14 and may our cattle be heavy with young. May there be no breach in the walls, no exile, and no cry of distress in our streets.
15 Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall; happy are the people whose God is the LORD.
Background. An acrostic poem ― each line is in alphabetical sequence ― which apparently explains the re-presentation of thematic material from other psalms; but all are focused on praise of Yahweh. Yahweh is first praised for his “works,” alluding to creation, then for his “rule” which evokes the theme of Israel’s ascendancy under Yahweh’s guidance and finally for his compassion and readiness to help the weak and downtrodden.
Reflection. We cannot suppress our gratitude to LIFE which brought us into existence through eons of evolutionary time and an infinity of unknown factors. It is this universe of living matter that brought all this ― our earth, our organisms, our communities ― together. We are all here at the same time. What a great party! It puts on raucous display the superabundance of the material energy that we are constructed of … a gift of incalculable proportions by which we have creatively developed ourselves … for we are THAT!
1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.
Having praised the “works” of LIFE we celebrate its power to create a just, generous and compassionate human community ― a “kingdom” like no other.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.
The compassion we have to have for one another if our communities are to neutralize the crushing, dehumanizing fear of death, is inspired by LIFE’s non-judgmental generosity, sharing its gifts and power even with those who would abuse them. Our compassion is the work of LIFE, and the fruit of our compassion is the family of humankind. We are in the hands of LIFE. We trust it; even as it provided us with ourselves, we trust it will provide us with what we need to live.
14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.
Background. This poem introduces the last group of “alleluia” psalms, psalms of praise, clearly grouped together at the end of the psalter to form a coda to the entire collection. The concrete images that characterize the post-exilic understanding of Yahweh, no longer the warrior champion able to defeat other gods, dominate the last five verses. He is now the God of compassion and support of the poor, weak and defenseless. Was this meant metaphorically? Or was it an inducement?
Reflection. The gap between the imagery of vv. 5-10 and reality, had to be as obvious to the poet as it is to us. How can we account for this disparity without imputing a mindless verbal formalism to the psalmist ― a mouthing of empty platitudes? Could the author and redactors have understood “Yahweh,” as we do, to be the very force of LIFE that enlivens, energizes and enlightens us to the awe and respect for the living things around us, impelling us to establish justice, compassion and generosity in our communities and in our relationships to all things? For who is it that has to give food to the hungry if not ourselves? Who will protect the stranger, the defenseless, the widows and orphans, take the blind by the hand and lift up those whose hearts are broken by the avalanche of death, if we do not do it. It is LIFE, functioning in and as us, that does these things. We are LIFE in its most agile, intelligent, empathetic form to date. How else can LIFE do these things except in its most morally evolved form? We do not do these things for LIFE. We are LIFE. We do them because LIFE is what we are.
1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
The power of LIFE is immense. It was responsible for the development of this material cosmos and all the awesome things that have evolved from its living matter.
6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
Not least of which is humankind, a being so akin to the profuse abundant generosity of matter’s LIFE itself that it is compelled to works of heroic justice and profligate compassion. We give food to the hungry, we set prisoners free, we walk together with the blind, we share ourselves with those who are bowed down, strangers frightened in a strange land, the widow and orphan who have no source of sustenance and protection. We are LIFE, and we install the reign of LIFE wherever we go. We can’t help it. It’s who we are.
7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!