The Psalms in this section will appear in sequence from 100 to 150
Background. A psalm of praise, apparently bundled with the preceding enthronement psalms for that reason, but without mentioning enthronement. The gratitude is focused on the identity of Yahweh with his people. The Israelites belong to Yahweh the way sheep belong to the herdsman.
Reflection. We are the spawn of LIFE. LIFE made us; we belong to LIFE in a way that is deeper than ownership. LIFE is our parent. We bear LIFE’s characteristics: its insatiable thirst for being-here, and its helpless need to give itself away in more LIFE. We are proud to belong to LIFE. We celebrate LIFE’s abundant generosity urging us to share ourselves and to insure that everyone’s survival is secure. We can’t help it. It’s who we are.
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Background. A psalm chanted by or for the king, perhaps at the beginning of his reign, in which he ritually declares his loyalty to the torah. He commits himself publicly to a life of personal integrity and promises he will apply these standards to his administration. He will not tolerate injustice and he vows he will discharge any of his ministers who do. It seems to be the last in this mini-collection of enthronement psalms, this one the voice of the king himself.
Reflection. The close connection between LIFE and fundamental morality ― the dharma, Tao, or torah which I describe as justice, compassion and generosity ― is one of the evidences we have for the character of the LIFE we carry forward. We are alive, and we know we have and manage LIFE as our very own; but at the same time we know it is not something that began with us, much less is it something we established on our own initiative. LIFE came to us through other living things: the living cells of our parents, the support and love of their family and friends, the nourishment drawn from the consumption of other living species of animal, plant and sea life, the life-sustaining systems of the earth itself whose water and oxygen, cycling with carbon dioxide and other elements, supports so much and variegated life that it continues to defy full identification. All these things collaborate in channeling LIFE to us.
LIFE’s abundant generosity is an objective fact indisputably present on planet earth. Even if there is no direct evidence to prove that it derives from a personal source, it’s still a fact. And it characterizes the LIFE we bear. Whether we believe we should relate to the LIFE-source as a “person” or not, we are stuck with the fact that its thrust toward self-donation is embedded in our blood and bones. Even though it’s most pronounced in us, we see it everywhere. It’s a characteristic of matter’s energy ― the way of the universe. So regardless of what the metaphysical anatomy of LIFE may be, we are constrained by its dynamic characteristics. Like it or not we have to learn to love if we want to be happy, because loving is what the LIFE we bear does.
This puts an entirely new spin on “religion,” for it makes religion a sub-set of a more fundamental and less optional set of parameters. Love comes first, and we all know it. The most committed “atheists” still need to love and find people who love them or they will shrivel and die; the same goes for the career people who choose to find the meaning of LIFE in their work or their art and not in family relationships: ironically they must have a support community of others who love them for what they do or their creativity will dry up and disappear.
The “king” in this poem is clear-eyed about his limits. He is bound by the torah, in the broadest sense, and even the royal power that he wields, unaccountable to any other human being, is constrained by the torah, not because Yahweh will punish him if he violates it (there is not even a hint of Yahweh’s intervention in this poem), but because torah, dharma, tao is what we are.
We chant this psalm with enthusiasm along with the king, committing ourselves to being only and always what we are: the limited and perishing mirrors and agents of LIFE.
1 I will sing of loyalty and of justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing.
2 I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house;
3 I will not set before my eyes anything that is base. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.
4 Perverseness of heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.
5 One who secretly slanders a neighbor I will destroy. A haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not tolerate.
6 I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, so that they may live with me; whoever walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.
7 No one who practices deceit shall remain in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue in my presence.
8 Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the LORD.
Background. A personal lament. Clearly in three parts: the first refers to the personal affliction and suffering of the poet who believes that it is Yahweh who is punishing him for his sins. The middle section lays out the poet’s reason for hope: the contract between Yahweh and his people. The poet is a member of Yahweh’s special people and knows he can count on Yahweh’s protection. In the final section the poet draws his well-prepared conclusion: Yahweh is eternal, the rest of us, even the heavens and the earth, like old clothing will turn threadbare with time and be discarded. It is the intimate connection ― the national contract ― with the immortal, eternal Yahweh that guarantees eternal security for those who are suffering. We alone bypass the human condition because we are joined to Yahweh at the hip.
Reflection. Laments are intense poems. They speak directly to the human condition: suffering, self-blame, the search for an elusive intelligibility, the scandal of Yahweh’s apparent permissive complicity with our suffering suggesting punishment, and the insistence that there is a quid pro quo necessarily functioning in all suffering. Yahweh rewards those who obey and punishes those who don’t … a formula that most are convinced cannot be challenged and therefore serves as a premise for other conclusions and determines our relational attitude toward “God.”
The anguish expressed in these psalms is a reminder to us of the added torment that falls on those who really believe that “God” has thought about and personally decided to permit this particular suffering in our case. This is a self-justifying assumption which can ordinarily never be disproven … until you are confronted with phenomena, like the Holocaust, where the heinousness of the crime is so beyond the pale, that there is no possible justification for claiming “God’s” permission. If “God” could not possibly have permitted it and it still happened, that means “he” couldn’t stop it. Either “God” is not good, or “God” is not God.
This demands a complete re-thinking of the concept of “God.” Given the historical occurrence of the Holocaust (and many other similar events, including natural disasters which “God” could alter without interfering with “free will”), you are forced to abandon the traditional imagery of an anthropomorphic theist “God.” Face reality: There is no such “God.” There are no miracles. Whatever “God” there is, must have a character that is compatible with the evolving world as we observe it and measure it with our scientific tools.
1 Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call.
LIFE is not an entity separate from us; thinking that it is causes us to fatally misdirect our feelings. The face we think is hidden from us is really our own. But the poet knows his human condition well, and he describes it accurately: he launches a series of striking metaphors that capture the human sense of powerlessness before the forces of nature and the injustice perpetrated by selfish humans. What he doesn’t know is that it is simply the situation with which LIFE ― with our face ― must contend. He thinks “God” has done this to punish him, and somehow could stop it all if he wanted to. Our suffering is less than the ancient psalmist, who must struggle with the feeling that “God” has betrayed him, or that nothing is sacred. We are lucky; we know better. We too suffer; but we do not blame “God.”
3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is stricken and withered like grass; I am too wasted to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my skin.
6 I am like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places.
7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
8 All day long my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread, and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.
The poet tries to lay a guilt-trip on Yahweh in order to induce him to stop the torment. But we know what LIFE is like. It provides the wherewithal for others to live, it doesn’t determine what they do or what they don’t do. The poet appeals to the contract that Yahweh had with Israel: that he would hold Israel as the apple of his eye, and protect it from its enemies. But for us Yahweh is a metaphor for LIFE, the LIFE that we bear as our own. If we call on the compassion that LIFE is capable of, we know that it is we who are its agents; we are the ones who make compassion a reality in our world. If we cherish the community that sustains us, we cherish even its dust and the stones of its buildings, we will activate ourselves in defense of those who stagger under the weight of the human condition ― the destitute, the prisoners, those who are doomed to die. We are the mirror of LIFE’s abundant generosity which is made visible in our compassion for all things.
12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; your name endures to all generations.
13 You will rise up and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to favor it; the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold its stones dear, and have pity on its dust.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth your glory.
16 For the LORD will build up Zion; he will appear in his glory.
17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and will not despise their prayer.
18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD:
19 that he looked down from his holy height, from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die;
21 so that the name of the LORD may be declared in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem,
22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD.
On the brink of death, the poet reaches new depths of understanding: LIFE is immanent in the totality of the material energy of the universe. The forms that LIFE assumes, including ourselves, come and go, they evolve with time and circumstances, like a change of clothing. But LIFE is indomitable. It finds ever new ways to convert the energy of material entropy into an expression of its abundant generosity. WE ARE THAT! We are all and only THAT. We are alive with matter’s living energy; there is nothing else to us. We came together out of the past through matter’s living potential and we return to its eternal pool of elements when our composite structure disintegrates. We are eternally part of LIFE’s material energy; where it goes, we go; its destiny is our destiny.
23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days.
24 “O my God,” I say, “do not take me away at the midpoint of my life, you whose years endure throughout all generations.”
25 Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall live secure; their offspring shall be established in your presence.
Background. A hymn of praise and thanksgiving, whose expressions reflect the parameters of pre-philosophical, pre-scientific religious and scientific belief.
Reflection. Roland Murphy in the JBC claims this psalm reflects a “deep religious sensitivity,” and a “simple and beautiful reaction to God’s goodness.” I think that opinion is pure Pollyanna. The beliefs trotted out in this psalm are, if taken literally, empty formalities that create a fog that effectively denies reality. That Yahweh “satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s,” may characterize some lives some of the time, but certainly not most, and for many it’s the complete opposite. That Yahweh “works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed” is likewise a platitude that is not borne out in reality. The promise that Yahweh “is merciful … slow to anger … will not always accuse … does not hold grudges,” is based on the theory that all suffering is a punishment sent by Yahweh because of sin. The reality is that suffering comes whether we sin or not, and evildoers’ luck is no worse than anyone else’s. But, even granting that the equations were true as the ancients believed, the experience of many is that Yahweh is actually quite quick to anger … always accuses … and refuses to forgive. This is precisely the assumption about Yahweh’s character that forms the basis of Augustine’s theory of sin and redemption and Luther’s doctrine of justification which was built on it. Augustine and Luther believed that God is eternally angry with humankind for the unforgiveable insult of original sin, and that this “God” would blithely send infants to eternal torment for simply bearing the humanity of the man who insulted him.
We have to acknowledge the tradition we have inherited. If we are to change that tradition we have to emend the assumptions and premises that have been used to justify attitudes that we now realize are not real and ultimately dehumanizing. The poet of this piece is looking at life with blinders. There are no miraculous cures or divine punishments or providential arrangements in life. If there is to be justice, it is we who must insure it. If there is to be punishment, it is humankind who must do the punishing. If there is to be the avoidance of disasters like wars, plagues, ecological collapse, we are the ones who have to foresee and react to prevent them. LIFE WORKS IN AND THROUGH US. LIFE is not to be found except as the energy embedded in the evolved forms of living matter. LIFE is not a separate entity. LIFE is not a person as we understand that word. LIFE is the living existential energy that we experience as the matter of this universe and of our organisms.
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Praise LIFE … this LIFE that energizes us all. Celebrate yourself for what you are.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits —
LIFE came to me, LIFE was given to me … I did not create it. Everything I am, everything I have comes from LIFE … is LIFE.
3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
I must learn to stop trying to create a self other than the one that reflects LIFE. I must learn to rest in the LIFE that enfolds me and allow my body and mind the time and serenity to heal itself. Drawing from LIFE’s energy, I have come back from personal disaster … more than once. LIFE is not interested in my self-indulgent remorse, self-pity and despair. I embrace LIFE’s path of justice, abundant generosity and silent gratitude. I surrender to what I am: the mirror and agent of the living energy that spawned me. I am the face of LIFE; there is no other.
4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
My energy is LIFE’s energy. It is constantly renewed. Through that energy LIFE will work vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. There is no other.
6 The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
LIFE’s ways are the dharmapath, the torah, the tao, the way of heaven. All peoples have them written in their hearts of flesh and on their tablets of stone. No one disagrees: do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, respect sexual partnerships, do not cripple yourself with intoxicants. Be grateful, just, generous and forgiving. This is the way. There is no other.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
LIFE accuses no one, judges no one, punishes no one. We must learn to deal with ourselves the way LIFE deals with us. LIFE is always available, always sharing its uncontrollable drive to create more LIFE. It is a potential we possess as our own for we are an evolved form of LIFE. There is no time for wallowing in remorse, self-pity, despair. They are foreign to the basic energy of LIFE. They are not compatible with LIFE. They are a waste of time.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
Compassion is our proper attitude, forgiveness is a metaphor for it. No one has it easy. Everything is impermanent, everything perishes. Material energy is not a god. It is limited to the resources available to it. In our case entropy. Living matter taps its own descent into equilibrium ― entropy ― to produce living organisms that evolve. Entropy is the only source of energy in the universe. Like breathing out and breathing in, entropy provides the gradient for LIFE’s appearance, and LIFE needs entropy’s constant availability to continue its own evolution into ever new forms. Death is essential to this cycle. The only immortality achieved by LIFE so far has been in the form of organismic reproduction which does not challenge entropy’s ultimate dominion, even while slipping the original organisms’ cells under the radar of death. Hence, we are like the grass that withers and is blown away by the wind … but returns in the spring to blanket the earth with green.
13 As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
Organismic reproduction, the source of evolution’s innovations, is LIFE’s solution. Living matter evolves and carries LIFE into ever new adventures at ever new depths of co-existence. Compassion is one of these, and it embraces whatever evolving LIFE is creating to confront the future: new generations of LIFE capable of displaying LIFE’s potential ― its abundant generosity ― in ever new ways.
17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
This the work of living matter ― LIFE ― our LIFE, in which we live and move and have our being. This is what we celebrate.
19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word.
21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will.
22 Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Background. A hymn of praise to Yahweh as the Creator and sustainer of the natural world. Its similarity in theme, imagery and in some cases expression to the Hymn to the Sun of the 14th century bce pharaoh of Egypt, Akhenaten, has been acknowledged, though scholars agree that the influence was indirect. It seems rather that a way of conceiving the relationship of a single divine power to the created world spread across the region and came to be expressed variously when the need for a ritual declaration emerged in the locality. This psalm was Israel’s.
One of the major differences between them is that the pronounced identification of Pharaoh with Aten in the Egyptian hymn is not thematically present in psalm 104. The political ramifications of the Hebrew poem are restricted to an evocation of the Torah, taken in its broadest sense, as a human analog that synchronizes with the detailed harmony of the earth teeming with life.
Reflection. Our science has identified the principle of LIFE embedded in material energy as the origin and matrix of the incredible multiplicity of forms and features that have evolved in our material universe. That same principle of LIFE, existing in our organisms and experienced directly as our individual conatus with its insatiable thirst to be-here, is also clearly the phenomenological source of our sense of the sacred. Since LIFE performs the same creative and poetic function as YAHWEH does in this poem, we have no trouble simply joining our voices to the chorus that has been singing this same song for over three thousand four hundred years.
This LIFE that we thank and praise is using our organic material as a garment for its own emergence into the light of day. We can palpably touch LIFE in every present moment simply by turning our attention to it. We are-here now because of LIFE’s energy in living matter. We are the expression of LIFE’s own thirst to be-here. We are LIFE at the cutting edge of its trajectory through time. What an immense stroke of luck to be caught up in this river of LIFE and allowed to display its experiments in the ever deeper and more intimate embrace of being-here.
As a friend recently said, there is nothing to do … there is nowhere to go. Just lay back and enjoy the journey. We are borne along by a force that is beyond our control and comprehension. Our gratitude comes because we love what we are, we embrace what is happening to us, and we trust where it all is going.
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
Entropy, like falling water, is an overwhelming chaotic power that LIFE has harnessed and domesticated. Now in one form after another LIFE is served and nourished, sustained and allowed to thrive with this same once-chaotic energy. LIFE’s embrace of chaos as its source of energy has established the fundamental dynamic that characterizes material energy in our universe: toward more LIFE in every imaginable way.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.
LIFE is not limited to the daytime under the sun, but also at night living organisms of all kinds enjoy the same blessings. LIFE’s munificence is universal.
20 You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening.
24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
The great waters, domesticated now and no longer unruly, serve as the place for sea creatures to swim and play, for humankind to travel and ship its produce.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
Entropy ever remains the bedrock of matter. Matter’s necessary descent toward equilibrium continues to provide an inexhaustible source of energy that LIFE uses to renew the world with life. The grass withers and is blown away by the wind, but when springtime comes, it returns to cover the earth with green.
31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works —
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
Where does humankind fit in to this picture? We sit quietly ― we meditate ― and we ponder this tremendous scene, this whole experiment in green. Who are we if not a small part of this immense tree of LIFE, living on its energies, following its obsessive path into more LIFE? May my meditation be always fixed on the truth. May I always follow the path of LIFE, my LIFE. My LIFE I love you.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
Background. Another historical poem of praise incorporated into 1 Chron 16 (Murphy: JBC). This suggests it was a psalm used in the post-exilic efforts to re-establish the Jewish historical-religious trajectory whose centerpiece was the second temple. This psalm relies on the patriarchs and the exodus rather than on the royal Davidic promises to establish Israel’s divine destiny.
Reflection. LIFE is not a tribal god. Our venerable ancestors whose primitive tribal identity made it impossible for them to perceive that the source of the sacred was universal, sent us looking in the wrong places for the face of “God.” This psalm is an historical incidence of that misperception and detour. If we decide to use this psalm for our prayer life, it must be modified accordingly.
The “works” of LIFE go far beyond the miracles of the exodus once attributed to YAHWEH. But if we understand the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to have been a collective appropriation of their human potential under Moses’ leadership, it was the energy of LIFE that made it happen. Our genetic identity with LIFE leaves us with an unmistakable moral bias: toward more LIFE, with all the liberation and empowerment that that implies.
1 O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
4 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.
5 Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
Our meditation is the way we “remember” who we are: what LIFE has made of us and how LIFE continues to enliven us. LIFE’s energy is not coercive, but it is not morally neutral either. It is an energy bent on more LIFE. Everything spawned of matter’s living energy is launched in a particular direction and when it awakens to its “true self” it sees and embraces the dharma, Tao, torah.
6 O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
7 He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
8 He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9 the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac,
10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”
12 When they were few in number, of little account, and strangers in it,
13 wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people,
14 he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account,
15 saying, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”
It is the homing principle embedded in LIFE’s material energies that, like an inerrant compass, insures the accuracy of the direction taken, and its eventual arrival at its destined end: more LIFE. The dharmapath is the only way. Other paths are premised on other notions of life. But there is no other LIFE. LIFE is the only life there is, and the dharma is its path.
16 When he summoned famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread,
17 he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron;
19 until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD kept testing him.
20 The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free.
21 He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions,
22 to instruct his officials at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.
Leaders who are the agents of LIFE rise up. They are essential. They lead us in directions that are counter-intuitive for our selfish self. Who would have thought that denying ourselves the things that gratify us ― what we crave ― would lead to liberation and joy? Listening to our spiritual teachers we venture into unfamiliar territory ― the paths of the dharma ― that at first seem like deserts and foreign lands.
23 Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.
24 And the LORD made his people very fruitful, and made them stronger than their foes,
25 whose hearts he then turned to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.
When our teachers speak, their words are clearer than crystal. Following them at first is easy. The difficulty comes later when everything goes wrong, when the teacher’s voice is silent and we find ourselves on our own. When troubles come, living can seem like a chain of plagues, one more unbearable than the next. We fight and deny the impermanence of organic life until we reach rock bottom. At some point we acknowledge our impotence: we do not have the resources to avoid final dissolution and death, and we surrender.
26 He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron whom he had chosen.
27 They performed his signs among them, and miracles in the land of Ham.
28 He sent darkness, and made the land dark; they rebelled against his words.
29 He turned their waters into blood, and caused their fish to die.
30 Their land swarmed with frogs, even in the chambers of their kings.
31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats throughout their country.
32 He gave them hail for rain, and lightning that flashed through their land.
33 He struck their vines and fig trees, and shattered the trees of their country.
34 He spoke, and the locusts came, and young locusts without number;
35 they devoured all the vegetation in their land, and ate up the fruit of their ground.
36 He struck down all the firstborn in their land, the first issue of all their strength.
It’s when we finally let go of everything ― every fantasy, every arrogance, every scheme, every maneuver, every effort to control things and people in order to make this living human organism permanent, solid, unassailable, immortal ― that the final liberation occurs. We embrace our impermanence as the essence of what we are, and our inevitable dissolution as our final destiny. In that embrace we let go of the fantasy self that dreams of a permanence that simply does not exist; and what begins to emerge is the true self, the self that transcends the individual self. It recognizes that it is a body, a material organism, a temporary composite made of decomposing matter, a part of a flowing river of elements whose only true and enduring identity is the totality.
37 Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it.
39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night.
40 They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant.
43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.
44 He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
45 that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!
Once we identify ourselves as part of this immense totality driven by a LIFE that energizes it all, we can rest in the flow that we are part of, for we have no control over where it is going. All we know is what this living totality has done over the past 14 billion years of cosmic evolution. That is what it is. There is no reason to expect that it will ever stop being what it is, and doing what it does.
Background. A community lament that terminates book four of the psalms. It was a prayer for an end to the Exile and the restoration of Israel’s destiny. The poet’s explanation for the current debasement is to be found in the Exodus experience. It was Hebrew disobedience in the desert, Horeb, born of lack of trust in Yahweh’s power, establishing a pattern that was repeated throughout Israel’s subsequent history, that brought about the decline and eventual depopulation of the nation. But that divine power is still there, as are the promises. The same Exodus experience serves as hope for the future.
Reflection. LIFE is not a god. Abandoning LIFE can be called “disobedience” only in the metaphoric sense that we have stopped listening to ourselves ― we have forgotten who we are. The process of “restoration,” therefore, begins when we start to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness, living with full consciousness in the present moment, reveals the unnecessary frustrations that we generate for ourselves by pursuing a chimera ― a mirage ― a false imaginary self concocted to “act out” a role in human society. Its purpose is to ensure self-aggrandizement and the accumulation of those resources that are believed sufficient and necessary for an endless life of self-gratification and personal recognition. It is all delusion.
Such permanence is not possible. No amount of amassing of wealth and power, or the satisfactions of our gross cravings for recognition and superiority can forestall the inevitable dissolution of our material components ― the dis-integration of this temporary composite ― and their return to the infinite pool of matter’s living energy from which they came. The wisdom that penetrates the illusions of a false wannabe permanent “self” and reveals the true identity of the human organism to be with the substrate, the totality ― the living material energy, the LIFE that has evolved our cosmos ― slowly replaces the pursuit of the impossible and unnecessary attempt to immortalize the individual self, resulting in a peace and liberation we may never have imagined was available to us. Mindfulness offers a joy that we do not have to wait for in the future ― it belongs to each present moment.
1 Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Who can utter the mighty doings of the LORD, or declare all his praise?
The way of LIFE is the dharmapath pursued with meditative mindfulness. We identify with the good of the totality not with the satisfactions of our perishing individual selves. Nothing can compare with the works of LIFE: this entire cosmos and earth’s tremendous experiment in green. There is no other LIFE.
3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.
4 Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them;
5 that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory in your heritage.
6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
7 Our ancestors, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, so that he might make known his mighty power.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry; he led them through the deep as through a desert.
10 So he saved them from the hand of the foe, and delivered them from the hand of the enemy.
11 The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left.
12 Then they believed his words; they sang his praise.
LIFE’s works are on a time-scale that transcends by eons our individual interests limited as they are by our extremely short cycle-of-life. It is easy for us to lose perspective. This is where meditation comes in. It helps us slow down, look at the big picture and gain a correct assessment of our place in the whole. That LIFE, which evolved this incredible panoply of life forms and cosmic structures over billions of years should be, here and now, the wellspring of my very own individual conatus is mind-blowing. The realization should be enough to inspire trust in the long-range trajectory of living matter, of which we are made. If we don’t stop and think, however, we forget. Mindfulness is remembering. It is the essential activity of intelligent organisms. It is not a refined predilection of the spiritual elite. It is not optional. If we forget who we are, we lose contact with LIFE.
13 But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.
14 But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert;
15 he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them.
16 They were jealous of Moses in the camp, and of Aaron, the holy one of the LORD.
17 The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the faction of Abiram.
18 Fire also broke out in their company; the flame burned up the wicked.
19 They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them — had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them. Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise.
The poet has no end of examples of what “forgetting” looks like in practice. And he identifies that forgetting with the loss of LIFE, individual health, collective justice and equality, communal security and wellbeing. The poet imagines a punishing god paying back each act of disobedience and mistrust.
25 They grumbled in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the LORD.
26 Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27 and would disperse their descendants among the nations, scattering them over the lands.
28 Then they attached themselves to the Baal of Peor, and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
29 they provoked the LORD to anger with their deeds, and a plague broke out among them.
30 Then Phinehas stood up and interceded, and the plague was stopped.
31 And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever.
32 They angered the LORD at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account;
33 for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke words that were rash.
The total inadequacy of the religious thinking associated with tribal deities like Yahweh is unmistakably clear and indisputable in this poem. The psalmist actually believed that what they were calling “God” would have commanded them to exterminate other tribes because they worshipped other gods. The primitive infantilism on display here, fully clarified in meditative analysis, is something we can honestly say our tradition is well rid of. We are grateful that we no longer labor under these pathologies insulting not only to a good God but also to any decent human being. These are barbaric, inhuman sentiments that revealed the Hebrew people, even as late as the exile, to be barbarians, religious cretins and an embarrassment to humankind. We use their psalms only out of respect for our roots, not because they accurately represent our relationship to our Sacred source, in which we live and move and have our being.
34 They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did.
36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons;
38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood.
39 Thus they became unclean by their acts, and prostituted themselves in their doings.
The thinly veiled excuse that it was their failure to exterminate others that “caused” them to descend into moral depravity, is a classic example of immature deflection. Instead of owning their own debauched cravings and untrusting fears, they blame it on those whom they would like to murder and appropriate their goods … a degenerate excuse for a life of degeneracy. It represents the total abandonment of the torah, the dharmapath.
40 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage;
41 he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their power.
43 Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes, and were brought low through their iniquity.
The psalmist repeats the same formula: quid pro quo. All adversity derives from disobedience to Yahweh and the abandonment of the contract. It was a moral platitude that served for securing national coherence, but it did not correspond to reality, either then or now. We have come to realize there is no such “God.” The source of our sense of the sacred and our identity with the totality is LIFE, in which we live and move and have our being. The only quid pro quo with LIFE is what happens when we abandon the path that leads to more LIFE. If we sever ourselves from LIFE, we cut ourselves off from the energy and wisdom that leads to more LIFE. We punish ourselves; LIFE does not punish us.
44 Nevertheless he regarded their distress when he heard their cry.
45 For their sake he remembered his covenant, and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
46 He caused them to be pitied by all who held them captive.
47 Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
48 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. And let all the people say, “Amen.” Praise the LORD!
THUS ENDS BOOK FOUR OF THE PSALMS
BOOK V (PSALMS 107–150)
Background. A psalm of gratitude and praise for the return from Exile 537 bce. The restoration establishes a theme which is expanded upon and applied to four groups who would have been similarly saved from disaster. The last section, according to Murphy, is an addition in the spirit of Deutero-Isaiah that continues the generalization of Yahweh’s universal saving intervention. References to “the city” are taken as symbols of civilized life which presupposes the justice and compassion enjoined by the Torah.
Reflection. Restoration from exile would not have been possible if Israel’s captors had not had a change of heart. The torah, in the broad sense of human compassion and feeling for justice, must also have been functioning with them. The universality evoked here is a dawning realization that began for the Jews after the exile and grew … reaching a degree at the beginning of the common era that allowed for the emergence of the Christian phenomenon which at its inception, before being hijacked by Rome, was a universalist Judaism.
Material LIFE’s restorative power is readily visible in the body’s capacity to heal itself. The human mind, also a material organ, shows the same signs; once obstacles are removed and debilitating influences eliminated, the mind is capable of healing and defending itself from virtually all attacks. Extrapolating to the sphere of human morality, spirituality and social-political life, once the people begin synchronizing with the dharma ― the harmonies established by cosmic matter’s living energy ― human community will be restored to its original justice, compassion, generosity and loving-kindness. Once Nebuchadnezzar’s personal vindictiveness was removed from the backs of the Babylonian people, the natural human sense of justice and compassion emerged … to the benefit of the exiled Israelites.
1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
A boiler plate invitation to praise. The same phrase is found throughout the Old Testament in various places and the context is always salvation from “trouble” whose paradigm was the exodus from Egypt.
2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
The universalist theme is established both geographically and through the four categories of Israelites saved. Jews came “home” from everywhere and from every kind of trouble: first: those wandering in the desert, like the Hebrews newly liberated from Egypt.
4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town;
5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress;
7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
Second, those in prison and indentured service, slaves … many due to their own misconduct. LIFE’s restorative power functions equally for them and for everyone who surrenders to the dharmapath ― living matter’s natural harmonies clearly manifest to human intelligence and insight. Nothing lasts forever. Anger, bitterness, vindictiveness, greed, craving all come and go and are susceptible to the thought-control that comes from mindfulness and meditation. LIFE is a force for liberation for everyone alive. LIFE abandons no one.
10 Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;
14 he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder.
15 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
Third, those who had made themselves sick by bad choices. LIFE’s non-judgmental restorative power is on display for these people just as it is for prisoners.
17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;
20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.
21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.
Fourth, those who have experienced the violent chaos of a storm at sea have seen firsthand the primitive forces that LIFE has tamed resulting in our ordered world. They, like the others, have witnessed the works of LIFE and know where their gratitude comes from.
23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
If LIFE finally yields to entropy it’s only because there is a limit to the energy it is able to extract from its material wellspring. There has to be a remainder: the descent into equilibrium that is death becomes the source of future renewal ― more LIFE. Death and life are the cycles of being-here, its breathing in and breathing out. But it is one single cosmic material energy doing the breathing; life and death are the pulse and heartbeat of LIFE.
33 He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in;
37 they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their cattle decrease.
Ultimately, the restorative power of LIFE is always pointed in the same direction: toward more LIFE. Reproduction is its leitmotif. LIFE is never negative, never rejecting, never hopeless, never condemning, never discriminating. It is always renewing, always healing. It is always generous, open-handed, gentle, yielding, cooperating.
39 When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but he raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth.
43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.
A composite psalm made up of ps. 57: 8-12 and ps. 60: 7-14. See the commentary for those psalms.
Background. A personal lament, famous for its long list of curses. The psalmist claims to be the target of a hateful group who want to see him utterly destroyed and describes that destruction in appalling detail. They appoint an official accuser to pursue their plans which gives the impression that it is being carried out in an official court proceeding. But the charge is striking: he is accused of “not showing kindness,” and of “pursuing the poor and needy and brokenhearted to their death.” He prays that Yahweh will recognize that he is the poor and needy one, and that their curses will recoil upon his accusers.
Reflection. The phraseology of the indictment stands out. It raises the possibility that the juridical scenario is simply an imaginary backdrop for a religious poet who is making a passionate statement about “kindness” and justice, and the quintessential human condition. It is Yahweh, after all, whose principal characteristic is his “loving-kindness” and whom other psalmists have declared is “close to the brokenhearted.” How does the failure to be like Yahweh suddenly become a crime? The answer is: for the poet of deep religious commitments and sensitivities, it is the sum and substance of human life. It is the only crime. And for us who are trying to understand our tradition in the new terms that science and our global religious dialog are revealing to us, it speaks to the heart of what we are learning. We are LIFE itself in its most forward position historically. Our relationship to LIFE is not to something outside ourselves. LIFE is the immanent energy in which we live and move and have our being. We act like LIFE itself because we are LIFE itself: we remember to show kindness … we have compassion for the brokenhearted.
1 Do not be silent, O God of my praise.
2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues.
3 They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.
4 In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them.
5 So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
I know hatred when I see it. And in my case at least, I know what the hater is thinking, because I myself have hated others. As I reflect on my own life I realize that the objects of my hatred were given no quarter whatsoever. I was implicitly willing to permit all sorts of horrors to befall them. To get detailed about the torments would reveal the depth of my sadism and inhumanity. It amounts to nothing less than a desire for annihilation-after-torture. I was capable of watching them be cut off from LIFE altogether. I wanted any sign that they even existed totally erased.
Hatred is a thought-crime, but it is a truly ugly, negative thing. It is virtual murder and sometimes genocide; I know what goes into it, because I have been guilty of it. Now I am the object of others’ hatred, and because of my reflections on my own hatred I know what they are thinking …
6 They say, “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand on his right.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin.
8 May his days be few; may another seize his position.
9 May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.
10 May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
11 May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
12 May there be no one to do him a kindness, nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
13 May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
14 May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the LORD, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15 Let them be before the LORD continually, and may his memory be cut off from the earth.
What have I done to merit such extermination?
The same as is being heaped on me …
16 For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death.
17 He loved to curse; let curses come on him. He did not like blessing; may it be far from him.
18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat, may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones.
19 May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself, like a belt that he wears every day.”
20 May that be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life.
I am appalled at the cynical irony here. I always justified my hatred by pointing to the absence of compassion and human empathy in my “enemies.” Now I realize they are accusing me of thinking the very same thing that they are thinking. They hate me. They hate me because they say I have hated others. It doesn’t occur to them that they are committing the same thought-crime for which they condemn me. Am I missing something here?
21 But you, O LORD my Lord, act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.
When did hatred start? I hated others because I thought I had to defend myself against them. We are all in competition. But it’s an illusion. In fact, we all live energized by the same LIFE; our organisms are constructed of the same living matter; we all share the same human DNA; we all have a common ancestor; we are all impermanent and perishing. Who am I to sit in judgment of others? I live for a day and I am gone. I will hate no more.
We are all poor and needy. When did it start, this failure to have “kindness,” and compassion, and collaborate in the struggle for survival? Aren’t those that hate, the neediest and poorest of all … the most deluded … the most in need of compassion? I don’t know when it started, but it ends with me.
22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is pierced within me.
23 I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust.
24 My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt.
25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads.
I have hated others; my accusers are right. May what’s happening to me … my meditation on LIFE, my change of heart … occur to them, when they think of LIFE, the LIFE we share. May they be ashamed of their delusional hatred, as I am ashamed of mine.
26 Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love.
27 Let them know that this is your hand; you, O LORD, have done it.
28 Let them curse, but you will bless. Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.
29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonor; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.
It is being mindful of LIFE whose boundless generosity we share and bear forward as our own, that will end this cycle of illusion. We are all poor and needy; we have all received the same LIFE as a precious and unexpected gift. LIFE shares itself with everyone. LIFE does not condemn; who are we to condemn … in the name of LIFE? LIFE hates no one; who are we to hate … in the name of LIFE? It is our mindfulness of our shared LIFE that saves us from our illusions.
30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would condemn them to death.
Background. A royal psalm possibly sung at the coronation of a new king. Yahweh’s king is like his adopted son, he sits at his right hand and exercises a “priesthood” like Melchizedek’s recorded in the Book of Genesis, that antedated (and takes precedence over) the priesthood of Aaron. The poem is consistent with other post-exilic second-temple efforts to messianize the Davidic line of kings as the basis of the contract with Yahweh (and therefore the legitimacy and viability of a restored Jewish nation), rather than Moses and the Exodus. The king can count on Yahweh and Yahweh’s people to collaborate with him in the time of war. The poem is dominated by the imagery of a tribal war-god who was bound to the people and their king by contract.
Reflection. LIFE is not a tribal war god. The “contract” with Yahweh was an illusion. The imagery reflects the ancient sources of our tradition and a theology that is obsolete and even contrary to current religious values and consensus. We are well rid of such notions. We reflect on the damaging effect that clinging to them has had. The aggressive, genocidal tribalism evinced in this psalm helps us understand our own failures and avoid this persistent misconception of the sacred. It is inimical to the growing understanding of the unity of humankind as one family, and the global peace and economic collaboration demanded if we are to prevent our earth from being destroyed and our species with it.
Our real enemies are not one another. Our real enemies are the false selves ― individual and tribal ― that we erect like battle towers to defend ourselves against other people. But there are no “other” people. We are all one family spawned by LIFE. We all bear the characteristics of LIFE’s material energy: its fragile passion for being-here, its predisposition to collaborate, integrate and form collectivities, its random impartiality, its interactive relationship with its environment, its self-identification as a totality. In human terms all this translates to humility, justice, cooperation, generosity, compassion, gratitude. We are the children of LIFE. We sit at its feet and imitate its ways. We trust where it takes us.
1 The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes.
3 Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces on the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you.
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
After Philo’s stunning identification of Melchizedek with the Logos itself, it is easy to understand the prominent place the psalm was given by Christians. The use of Melchizedek to justify a messianism based on an autocratic kingship rather than on the communitarianism evoked by the collective exodus and its group leadership, was a well-established current by Jesus’ time. Christians inherited a Jewish penchant for autocracy and braided it into the tradition they received from imperial Rome. The combination was fatal. “Kingdom” was taken literally.
5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter heads over the wide earth.
The poet’s battle imagery can be metaphorically applied to those who fight for justice, but not literally. The tactics and the arms that energize the struggle must be consistent with that character of LIFE: selfless, non-violent, non-coercive, dispassionate, without hatred, without judgment, without self-exaltation. These values are not easily sustained by conventional warriors.
7 He will drink from the stream by the path; therefore he will lift up his head.
The ultimate victory will be celebrated by LIFE.
Background. This psalm was written in acrostic style (the half-lines follow an alphabetical sequence) and has been paired with the following psalm, 112, which is a wisdom psalm; these psalms allude to the exodus and the wisdom sayings of proverbs. In 111 the theme of praise for the God of Wisdom predominates.
Reflection. The works of LIFE are astonishing. Regardless of anyone’s antipathy to religion, all observers acknowledge their awe at the developments in the material universe, especially those on earth, close at hand and accessible to observation. No one denies the unbelievable accomplishments of biological evolution, issuing in organisms whose complexity and capacities provide an interactive nest for LIFE in virtually every conceivable environmental niche on the planet, from the rarefied oxygen at the heights of the stratosphere to the thermal vents at the deepest points on the ocean floor. This is the LIFE that enlivens humankind, the most developed organism that LIFE has evolved to date. We study LIFE’s ways so that we can imitate them, for we are what LIFE is.
The embrace of LIFE is the path that is laid out for us by our genetic inheritance. It is wisdom. The torah, the dharmapath of justice, compassion and generosity represent the universal consensus about what the imitation of LIFE looks like in human terms. It guarantees that our lives as a human family will flourish and grow, for the work of LIFE is to produce more LIFE.
1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
LIFE’s slow painstaking process of biological evolution provides an absolutely perfect fit between the organism and its environment, so that survival is ensured. Everything that lives is guaranteed nourishment through the living process by which it was formed. LIFE does not haughtily design an organism and then look for a way to feed it; it senses the environmental potential and in the form of living matter evolves an adaptation that fits it.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
LIFE’s works are robust and generous, those who imitate them become part of LIFE’s creative family. This is the destiny of humankind which is potentially the most creative, LIFE enhancing organism evolved so far.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.
Following the torah, the path of LIFE, is wisdom.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.
Background. Allusion to passages from proverbs characterize this psalm which Roland Murphy considers the partner to 111. Wisdom means embracing torah, the path of LIFE. Generosity ― “lending” ― is its keynote.
Reflection. LIFE’s most relevant characteristic for humankind is its abundant and indiscriminate generosity. Translating it into human terms means primarily, a concern for the welfare of all and not just oneself. Pursuing justice, being generous, sharing equitably, having compassion, forgiving … all these things are imitations of LIFE’s fundamental dynamic. The apparent contradiction between a conatus that is programmed by evolution to impel the individual to protect and enhance itself, and a material instinct to embrace the totality, reproduce, share and expand LIFE outside of oneself, is reconciled in the structured mutuality of the human community. By looking out for the good of the whole, the members are simultaneously ensuring self-protection. Trust in the justice functioning at the heart of the human community, therefore, is an essential element in the effort to achieve a balance. Self-protection and promoting the welfare of others becomes one and the same thing only in a society where justice prevails. Altruism is not only a private, individual virtue. It is as much the product of a social order which makes it possible. Thus, forging a just human community is one of the primary efforts of those committed to LIFE … it is an essential part of torah, the dharmapath, the tao.
1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
Those who embrace LIFE are guaranteed success in LIFE’s terms, which means always more LIFE for all. They are known by their conduct which is just, generous and compassionate toward all. The path that LIFE has laid out for us is clear: LIFE shares itself, empties itself, gives itself to others … to all others, indiscriminately. This is the way of LIFE.
4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.
Biological organisms are beset with trouble. We face annihilation from every side. The very planet, at times, unleashes forces that destroy us. Our own bodies have evolved defense mechanisms that we cannot always control; we turn them on one another in an attempt to secure our own survival. But by trusting the intelligence that LIFE has evolved in us, we know that we have the resources to prevent or at least avoid natural disasters and mitigate their effects on the victims.
We also know that other human beings are members of our own family even if they come from another part of the world and speak other languages. We are all meant to collaborate with one another for our mutual survival and wellbeing. We can trust one another because we all know that the torah ― LIFE’s path of wisdom ― is embedded in the heart of every tribe on the planet. We all want justice. We all want compassion, generosity, peace. We can trust one another.
7 They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.
8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; they will look in triumph on their foes.
9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
The keynote is generosity. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the road to security for oneself is sharing what you have, clinging to nothing, embracing the impermanence that LIFE has been able to wrest from the entropy of matter. Generosity is our way of imitating LIFE’s wanton abundance.
10 The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
The “wicked” in this context are selfish, stingy, paranoid, possessive. They do not trust LIFE. They are afraid and want to protect themselves. They will take what belongs to others if they can, and hoard for themselves. They refuse to share, they impute that same grasping motivation to everyone. They build walls of protection around themselves to keep others out. They grasp at their possessions and suppress their own instincts to share. They seem to think that somehow that way they can go on forever.
But they’ve got it backwards. Their attempt to make themselves permanent and to keep forever what they’ve got ― things and people ― is doomed to frustration. LIFE is impermanent. It gives itself away. All its offspring are genetically programmed to do what LIFE does: it gives itself to others. We are all made of the same living matter, designed to be re-used by others when our time under the sun is over. LIFE breathes in and out; it cycles with entropy to construct the flowing totality on display in our spectacular cosmos. Those who think they can avoid it will be sorely disappointed: giving what we are made of so that others may live is the very condition of our being-here.
Background. Roland Murphy gives no historical context for this psalm. It is a hymn of praise, part of a small collection called the Egyptian Hallel (because of the repeated use of the word alleluia) which comprises psalms 112-117. Its focus on Yahweh’s preference for the poor and needy is noteworthy.
Reflection. Our gratitude for LIFE characterizes human religiosity. It is the sum and substance of our posture. The gift of LIFE is so astonishing for us that that many have decided that their gratitude should inform and shape every thought, feeling and action during all the time they have under the sun. LIFE is a gift. It’s ours, but we cannot call it our own; we use it but we cannot possess it; we have it but we cannot keep it for ourselves. We have nothing that has not been given to us. We cannot even pay back LIFE for this precious gift, for anything we would give it, it already has and gave to us. We are reduced to utter receptivity. We are as nothing before LIFE. Everything fails us in the face of this overwhelming donation. So the psalmist emits a loud and unintelligible shout: “alleluia” … like kids saying “Yay!” … what else do you do when your reaction has nothing it can be compared to.
1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD.
2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.
4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
LIFE gives itself equally to all. It is we who differentiate and discriminate. We make some poor and some rich, some powerful and some defenseless. It is we who disregard the absolute equality with which LIFE distributes its resources. Every poor baby is born in the pink … at the peak of health and with full human potential that is not one whit less than the baby born to the wealthy and powerful. When will we learn?
7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!
The ultimate effect of embracing LIFE is that we are drawn to imitate its ways. It is we, then, who recognize that the poor were consigned to the dust by self-aggrandizing fools, not by LIFE; and it is we, the agents of LIFE who free them and the needy from the ash heap to which their inhuman societies had destined them. As the agents and mirrors of LIFE, we go even further: we are committed to change the very structures of those societies that permitted that reversal of LIFE’s equitable distribution of resources to begin with. We not only imitate LIFE as individuals, we want our communities to reflect the equality with which LIFE shares itself. Power must reflect LIFE’s potential. There is no other paradigm.
Background. The praise continues. This poem conflates Yahweh’s power displayed at the Exodus and his work as Creator. He dominated and tamed the “waters,” an allusion to the perennial ancient near-eastern symbol of chaos from which Yahweh drew the cosmos. The poet sees the mountains, set in place by Yahweh’s creative act, as responding in his use of Mt Sinai at the Exodus. It is the God of all creation that saved the Hebrew people in the Exodus from Egypt. It is the one who tamed the raging waters, chaos itself, who made gentle streams spring forth from the mountains and form quiet pools for the use of his people in the Sinai desert.
Reflection. LIFE draws its creative energy from entropy. It uses the energy of matter’s descent into equilibrium ― a chaotic necessity over which we have no control whatsoever ― to find combinations of its own internal components that will bear forward LIFE’s agenda: more LIFE. We are one of those combinations. How lucky can we be? LIFE’s creativity produced humankind and you and I live. How can we keep from singing?
Creative LIFE is in our DNA. Is it any wonder that the works we admire and imitate are the works of liberation, breaking the chains of slavery, rejecting the arrogant claims of the forces of anti-LIFE? There is only one LIFE. The forces of anti-LIFE look like they are alive, but they are not.
1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
The poet imagines living matter as full of ecstatic joy at being used by LIFE for more LIFE. The earth “trembles” with creative LIFE which it contains embedded in its material components like a dormant seed. Solids, liquids and gasses in all their forms and combinations “dance” together; they become an active display of the planet’s potential for LIFE.
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.
Background. No historical context is discernible, but the theology in this poem indicates that belief in a competitive pantheon of warring gods no longer characterizes the psalmist’s vision. There is a more confident monotheism with a moral dimension: Yahweh has no rivals and cannot be called upon to compete with idols as lifeless as the materials they are made of.
Reflection. The war gods are dead, all of them. As far to the horizon as we are able and competent to see, it is LIFE that is the energy that constitutes us. It evolved us out of its own living matter. It brings our organisms impeccably to full reproductive maturity, allowing us to take part in the creative process expanding the reach of LIFE in breadth and depth. LIFE provides the paradigm for our own autonomously chosen social constructions. In imitation of LIFE we have decided that our communities will be just and generous, indiscriminately fair, caring and compassionate, with unquestioning trust in the long-term project of matter’s living energy.
We know what LIFE is like, for we are LIFE in its most evolved form to date. We experience LIFE from within. We know what we are. We know what LIFE is capable of. We look forward to even greater marvels to come as LIFE evolves into the future.
1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; they make no sound in their throats.
8 Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.
Those who believe in war gods will find ways to be like them. Those who trust in LIFE become the agents and mirrors of LIFE. We want our human family ― the global community ― to be the agent and mirror of LIFE.
9 O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
We trust LIFE to do what it always does, what we have recognized in our own organisms as our deepest yearnings: to create more LIFE. Our very flesh throbs with the desire to reproduce. Our expectations will not be disappointed. Partnered with LIFE we expect nothing but more LIFE. It’s what we do.
12 The LORD has been mindful of us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron;
13 he will bless those who fear the LORD, both small and great.
14 May the LORD give you increase, both you and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
16 The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings.
17 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any that go down into silence.
18 But we will bless the LORD from this time on and forevermore. Praise the LORD!
Background. A Psalm of gratitude for a favor received. The psalmist faced destruction and was saved after asking Yahweh for help. This song was meant to accompany his sacrifice of thanksgiving in the Temple.
Reflection. LIFE works marvels but it does not perform miracles. LIFE draws living organisms out of entropy’s energy: cosmos from chaos, life from decay; but the entropy remains to produce more energy. LIFE and entropy are two sides of the same coin. They are like breathing in and breathing out. Death and decay remain essential elements in the cycle of life. Trusting LIFE means accepting the terms it has negotiated with death. There is a cycle whereby living matter evolves life forms, combining disparate elements which in due time seek equilibrium, no longer cohere and return their component energy to the cosmic pool … available for the next step in the cycle. The psalmist was saved once from death, but we all know that he will eventually die. Even Lazarus ultimately had to die, and this time for good. The underlying fact of entropy is the basis for matter’s energy for being-here. To embrace LIFE is to embrace death.
1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!”
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.
6 The LORD protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
LIFE has dealt bountifully with us. It has brought us out of the initial chaos and forged our living potential out of its own material energies. We see, we walk, we live. What can I give LIFE for all that it has given to me?
8 For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
9 I walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
10 I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”;
11 I said in my consternation, “Everyone is a liar. “
12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD
I will commit myself to follow its ways, to imitate its bountiful donation in human form. I am the servant of LIFE, as my mother was its servant before me.
14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.
18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!
Background. Because of its brevity some MSS associate this with either 116 or 118. But Murphy sees no reason to do so. It is simply a short, mantra-like, universalist shout of praise. A slightly extended “alleluia!”
Reflection. This psalm can be considered a summary of the human condition as seen by the religious perspective shorn of all details except our response. Gratitude. Here it is expressed in a way that could easily be memorized and repeated throughout the day, a constant reminder of who we are: the offspring of the matter in which we live and move and have our being ― LIFE. How can we keep from singing?
1 Praise the LORD, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples!
2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!
Background. This psalm features the repetition of the phrase “His steadfast love endures forever” which was virtually the entire content of 117. One can see why, even if they were not written together, a redactor would place them together.
Murphy says this is a liturgical psalm used as a call to a Temple processional. It incorporates elements of a lament and salvation from distress. Jewish tradition has associated it with the Feast of Tabernacles (tents) that memorializes the makeshift dwellings used during the trek through Sinai , so the salvation may apply to the Exodus itself. References to gates as a place where justice is determined are the gates of the Temple, a figure also found in Mesopotamian literature. The “stone” refers to the psalmist himself and his salvation. It was taken up later by Christians and given a messianic, prophetic interpretation.
Reflection. It is LIFE that resides at the core of our organism, empowering a transcendence over the terrified, selfish, self-defensive, self-aggrandizing “self” fabricated by the blind and mindless conatus. It is the presence of LIFE that exposes the self-deception and turns a false ego into a true self. Are there two “selves” as some claim? No. The false self is a chimera that we artificially create and energize to stand guard over our fictions and secure a place for them in human society. It is our intelligence under the guidance of meditation that sees through the sham and begins a process of letting go that eventuates in the emergence of an entirely new self energized by a newly educated conatus ― a self that we never imagined was there ― a self-defined by the dharma, the torah, the tao ― LIFE!
1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
LIFE is steadfast love. There is no wavering. LIFE can’t do everything we would like, but it is totally committed to what it does. Choosing to side with LIFE, I accept its limitations; I do not have unrealistic expectations. I love LIFE for what it is ad does. Energized by what LIFE really is, in imitation of LIFE I will not waver. My commitments will not be broken; my promises will be kept. No one can deter me. I am the child of LIFE.
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
I trust LIFE. Cravings and desires that I know glisten and sing but offer nothing, beckoned to me, but cleaving to LIFE I cut them off. They danced in front of me like bottles in a liquor store window for an alcoholic, but with LIFE I just cut them off. I could hardly hear myself think, but knowing I was embraced by LIFE I cut them off. It was LIFE energizing my new self that did it. LIFE is my strength and might.
10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees; they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
The victory belongs to LIFE. Practicing mindfulness revealed LIFE was in the present moment: where I live and move and have my being. It was LIFE’s potential that I was able to activate, and I am not ashamed to acknowledge the wellspring of my strength: LIFE. My song is about LIFE. My LIFE I love you!
15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;
16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.
Yes, I did it, but it was not my doing. My fictions were taking me in the totally wrong direction. Contemplating LIFE opened my eyes; it clarified the path. Meditating on LIFE showed me the stupidity of my ways. I was living in a fantasy world. Mindfulness opened the door. I entered there and I found real LIFE waiting on the other side. I knew right away it was where I belonged.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
So from being lost , I became a beacon for the lost. LIFE has made me its mirror and agent. This is LIFE’s doing. It is not a miracle, but it is a marvel.
22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
There is nothing more to say. It’s time for us to celebrate. Now you all know what LIFE does because it has done it in my life. LIFE will clarify the way for all of us as a community. What happens to each of us turns our extended family into the mirror and agent of LIFE. We can count on it always happening. This is what comes from following LIFE.
25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Background. This psalm is a long acrostic poem in Hebrew. Murphy explains: “each of the eight verses of the first strophe begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph); each verse of the second strophe begins with the second letter; and so on for all the 22 letter of the alphabet (beth).” (JBC, OT p. 598). Words that are the equivalent of “Law” (decrees, ordinances, commands, will, precepts, counsel, paths, etc.) are incorporated into every verse. Every verse in effect says “Torah is my delight.”
The poem is a mantra-like contemplative repetition of admiration and gratitude for the torah as the revelation of Yahweh and the invitation to the Hebrew people to imitate and share his life of goodness. The predominating sentiment is not the usual quid pro quo, prosperity as a reward for good behavior, but rather the joy and delight that fidelity to a relationship brings: torah is its own reward.
Reflection. The ways of LIFE are open and clear to all. The dharma, the torah, the tao, are the ways various cultures have determined what imitating LIFE means for humankind. They concur with one another to a remarkable degree. Justice, compassion, generosity sum up the “torah.” Our destiny is to imitate LIFE as a community. Therefore justice is the bedrock foundation of all else. Justice is clear: do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not transgress sexual norms, do not damage your bodies and minds. Compassion follows: we are all made of the same clay. Introducing inequities and false differences to excuse the unequal distribution of goods and the amassing of wealth by a privileged few runs directly counter to the ways of LIFE. LIFE shares itself fully and equally with all. This invites us to a generosity that imitates the abundance with which LIFE spews its wealth throughout the cosmos. We become the mirrors and agents of LIFE.
Like a mantra repeated throughout the day … like breathing in and breathing out … reminding us ceaselessly of who we are: that we are the offspring of LIFE … that it is in LIFE that we live and move and have our being, this poem stands out in the psalter. With insistent repetition, we proclaim our awe at this tremendous “experiment in green” (LIFE) that we have had the luck to be part of. We delight in “obeying” this torah, this path of LIFE, because it means energizing our selves ― activating the very thing that we are: we are LIFE in its most evolved form to date. That my “self” and LIFE are the very same thing, and that I put LIFE on display in the way I live, is a staggering realization … too awesome to sink in right away. I need to say it over and over, and over again. Let us begin.
1 Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.
2 Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.
4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.
5 O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.
8 I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.
9 How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
11 I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes.
13 With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth.
14 I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.
It not a question of fearful compliance. I have found a treasure here. It’s my delight.
15 I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
17 Deal bountifully with your servant, so that I may live and observe your word.
18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
19 I live as an alien in the land; do not hide your commandments from me.
Torah, the path of LIFE, has given me a taste of wisdom; I want to savor this understanding always.
20 My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments;
22 take away from me their scorn and contempt, for I have kept your decrees.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your decrees are my delight, they are my counselors.
25 My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word.
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes.
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
The intrinsic synergy between LIFE’s works in creation and the torah is made very explicit. To understand the cosmos one needs to experience the liberation of living the torah, the path of LIFE, love.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
29 Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your ordinances before me.
31 I cling to your decrees, O LORD; let me not be put to shame.
32 I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding.
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
36 Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
Embracing torah, the path of LIFE, is not a quid pro quo of any kind ― not even one projected for the afterlife. The very notion is antithetical to torah. For the poet it would be a disgrace, a betrayal of love.
37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.
40 See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.
To live torah is to let LIFE emerge as me … to let me be LIFE … and love.
41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise.
42 Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word.
43 Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your ordinances.
44 I will keep your law continually, forever and ever.
45 I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.
To live torah, the path of LIFE, is to be liberated from the lifelong enslavement to concocting a fictional self that does not exist. To never have to worry about being caught in a lie is to tap the well of fearlessness.
46 I will also speak of your decrees before kings, and shall not be put to shame;
47 I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them.
To live torah is to find the source of continuous joy.
48 I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
49 Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.
What torah, the path of LIFE, offers is, as always, more LIFE.
51 The arrogant utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.
52 When I think of your ordinances from of old, I take comfort, O LORD.
53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, those who forsake your law.
54 Your statutes have been my songs wherever I make my home.
55 I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law.
56 This blessing has fallen to me, for I have kept your precepts.
57 The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words.
What’s at stake here is not a nervous compliance but a personal union with LIFE itself. It is the love of LIFE.
58 I implore your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 When I think of your ways, I turn my feet to your decrees;
60 I hurry and do not delay to keep your commandments.
61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.
Rising at night to practice mindfulness of torah is a way of declaring that cleaving to LIFE is a total immersion. All traditions do it. All agree: there are no gaps anywhere, no rest, no stopping. LIFE is all.
62 At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous ordinances.
63 I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.
64 The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes.
Creation itself is mirrored in torah, the path of LIFE.
65 You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word.
66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.
67 Before I was humbled I went astray, but now I keep your word.
68 You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.
69 The arrogant smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts.
70 Their hearts are fat and gross, but I delight in your law.
71 It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statutes.
72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
73 Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
I surrender to torah, the path of LIFE, because I am the offspring of LIFE. I am LIFE’s progeny; I inherited its DNA, its genetic character. I am kin to LIFE. I am LIFE.
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.
75 I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness you have humbled me.
76 Let your steadfast love become my comfort according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
78 Let the arrogant be put to shame, because they have subverted me with guile; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
79 Let those who fear you turn to me, so that they may know your decrees.
By living torah we draw others to follow, for it makes LIFE visible.
80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes, so that I may not be put to shame.
81 My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word.
82 My eyes fail with watching for your promise; I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
84 How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?
85 The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me; they flout your law.
86 All your commandments are enduring; I am persecuted without cause; help me!
87 They have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 In your steadfast love spare my life, so that I may keep the decrees of your mouth.
89 The LORD exists forever; your word is firmly fixed in heaven.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
Torah and the evolving Cosmos are both the expression of LIFE; we are surrendering to what we are.
91 By your appointment they stand today, for all things are your servants.
92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery.
93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.
94 I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.
The torah is more than ordinances; it is intimate union with LIFE itself. It is love.
95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your decrees.
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
These five verses. 96 to 100 illustrate the significance of the torah. It is not a list of do’s and don’ts; it’s not a code of conduct or religious practice. It’s a self-embrace that takes its identity from LIFE itself whose fairness and abundant generosity it consciously imitates. It is the embodiment of love. It is an understanding that is solid and penetrating because it comes from the organism’s concrete engagement. The torah is the pure wisdom that comes from loving. Those who reject it are fools.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
102 I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Embracing torah is more than obedience. It is to become a work of art: a portrait in imitation of LIFE. We change the face we present to the world and “act” like LIFE itself. To have found LIFE’s own script for this new role, is a great stroke of luck. How sweet it is!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word.
108 Accept my offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your ordinances.
109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
111 Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
Behavior that is a display of love and the love of LIFE is not a reluctant compliance, a dry and sterile obedience. Embracing torah is the choice to live in enduring joy.
112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.
113 I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.
114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.
115 Go away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.
116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope.
117 Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually.
118 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes; for their cunning is in vain.
119 All the wicked of the earth you count as dross; therefore I love your decrees.
120 My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.
I tremble and weep because my embrace of torah, the path of LIFE, is so shabby. I doubt anyone will see LIFE in the way I live.
121 I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Guarantee your servant’s well-being; do not let the godless oppress me.
123 My eyes fail from watching for your salvation, and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise.
124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes.
The torah teaches the right way to live; and doing the right thing opens the mind to what LIFE really is. It allows LIFE to take over the self, body, feelings, mind and imagination.
125 I am your servant; give me understanding, so that I may know your decrees.
126 It is time for the LORD to act, for your law has been broken.
127 Truly I love your commandments more than gold, more than fine gold.
128 Truly I direct my steps by all your precepts; I hate every false way.
129 Your decrees are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple
131 With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your custom toward those who love your name.
133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise, and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression, that I may keep your precepts.
Torah shines out from the community that lives with justice, compassion and generosity. If the group sets other things higher, embracing torah becomes a bitter struggle for the individual.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept.
137 You are righteous, O LORD, and your judgments are right.
There is no reward or punishment with the torah; for the torah is the goodness of LIFE itself clearly expressed so that we may embrace LIFE through embracing its ways. The torah is relationship to LIFE. If it does not bring joy, we are not doing it right.
138 You have appointed your decrees in righteousness and in all faithfulness.
139 My zeal consumes me because my foes forget your words.
140 Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.
141 I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth.
It is the goodness of LIFE itself that the torah bears embedded within it.
143 Trouble and anguish have come upon me, but your commandments are my delight.
144 Your decrees are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.
145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD. I will keep your statutes.
146 I cry to you; save me, that I may observe your decrees.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I put my hope in your words.
148 My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.
Mindfulness is to contemplate torah, the path of LIFE. I do it day and night.
149 In your steadfast love hear my voice; O LORD, in your justice preserve my life.
150 Those who persecute me with evil purpose draw near; they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true.
LIFE is near us. It is that in which we live and move and have our being. It is our very self.
152 Long ago I learned from your decrees that you have established them forever.
153 Look on my misery and rescue me, for I do not forget your law.
154 Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise.
155 Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes.
156 Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your justice.
Torah is LIFE.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, yet I do not swerve from your decrees.
158 I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.
159 Consider how I love your precepts; preserve my life according to your steadfast love.
160 The sum of your word is truth; every one of your righteous ordinances endures forever.
The torah is not LIFE’s will for us; it is a blueprint for LIFE itself in human form. To embrace it is to embrace LIFE.
161 Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.
162 I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.
Finding out what actions synchronize with the flow of cosmic energy itself ― the torah ― is a great boon, a stroke of luck. Jesus said it was like finding a pearl of great price, or stumbling upon hidden treasure.
163 I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.
“Seven” is rarely meant literally in Hebrew literature. Here it means throughout the day, or even always. It corresponds to the mindfulness of the present moment that is counselled by the Buddhist tradition. In the west, Christian monks established seven “hours” during the day when all work would stop and a portion of the psalter would be sung or recited. But even this “literal” rendering is symbolic: it really means always.
165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
To surrender to torah is to let go of the chains enslaving us to hard labor — building pyramids to a self that doesn’t exist. To let them go is great peace.
166 I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I fulfill your commandments.
167 My soul keeps your decrees; I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep your precepts and decrees, for all my ways are before you.
169 Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word.
170 Let my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise.
171 My lips will pour forth praise, because you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your promise, for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.
175 Let me live that I may praise you, and let your ordinances help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.
Background. An individual lament. The poet might be writing from or remembering the exile and referring to his captors in a derogatory way by using the names of tribes from the region considered barbarian. In any case, the psalmist is focused on living among strangers and the morally alien nature of his situation; he is the target of calumnies and violence and cries to Yahweh to take vengeance on his attackers.
Reflection. It is easy to identify with this situation. We often feel we are living in a society whose moral values we do not share and which allows people to victimize one another. But we cannot call on LIFE the way the ancients called on their gods. We know better. LIFE, we have to constantly remind ourselves, is what we are. While we are alive, we are the ones who choose how LIFE will direct its considerable powers. When we call on LIFE we are calling upon that potential within ourselves and within other human beings that is capable of moral perception and response. We can discriminate between truth and deception. We know what it means to “wage war” literally or figuratively to avail ourselves of the goods or labor of others … and that often that triad of evil: lies, theft and murder, is what characterizes human interaction. Indeed, we usually have to lie to ourselves to justify taking what belongs to others, and then kill them in one way or another to secure the theft. LIFE, we have to recognize, energizes these decisions “blindly,” because LIFE’s only power of perception and choice resides in us. WE are material LIFE in its most evolved, morally conscious form. If we intentionally or even subconsciously suppress, distort or cripple our perception of what is right or wrong, we undermine LIFE’s potential for accomplishing its primary purpose: more LIFE. In order for LIFE to produce more LIFE it requires that we activate our own spontaneous instinct to acknowledge the truth and to live with justice, compassion and generosity. If we embrace our naturally intelligent and empathetic humanity, we will infallibly collaborate with LIFE’s project.
1 In my distress I cry to the LORD, that he may answer me:
2 “Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.”
3 What shall be given to you? And what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?
4 A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!
When we lie, to ourselves first and then to others, to enhance our fictional “self,” we are betraying LIFE and deserve to have LIFE withdraw from us. But it never does. We are using LIFE to undermine LIFE which evolved our spectacular minds for truth. Truth translates to moral clarity: justice, compassion, generosity ― exactly what we see LIFE doing in all its works. We know who and what we are. We are LIFE in human form. We should be ashamed for ever turning our back on it.
5 Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech, that I must live among the tents of Kedar.
6 Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.
If I am able to identify that others are betraying LIFE, it’s because I understand them. I am also capable of betraying LIFE, and have done so. For far too long have I let our common human habit of putting our fictional selves ahead of LIFE excuse my own personal abandonment of my identity. That ends here and now. I am determined to not be one of them. I don’t belong there. I do not have to continue acting “as if” I were something other than the mirror and agent of LIFE. I know who I am. Fear, lethargy and despair have no place in my LIFE.
Background. Murphy calls this a psalm of trust and cites some commentators as interpreting “hills” to mean the sites of the sanctuaries of alien gods. In this case the response to the question is a resounding acclamation of Yahweh’s power and benevolence.
Sunstroke is a real possibility in Palestine, says Murphy, and ancient peoples believed the moon had a parallel power. So finding shade is not just a refreshing experience, it means protection.
Reflection. Our identity with LIFE and its work constitutes human moral integrity. It is maintained uniquely by remembering who we are. Because of our tendency to daydream and let ourselves be led around by the fantasies we generate in our distraction, the practices of mindfulness ― meditation and focus on the present moment throughout the day ― are essential for us. We do not spontaneously sustain a sense of identity with LIFE.
There is nothing artificial about using these practices. After all, thinking is what we do. Our problem is that the uncontrolled flow of the imagination produces cravings for the things that please us, strokes our ego and allows the over-protective conatus leeway to generate paranoia, fear and distrust of others. LIFE is our moral compass that never sleeps; it will guide us infallibly and protect us from losing our bearings … if we remember who we are. That’s why we meditate and live mindfully.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
LIFE is our refuge. Embracing our identity with LIFE is not a one-time thing. We become spontaneously mindful of who we are only after years of habituation. The fact of our identity is a permanent reality; continuous meditation, “day and night,” brings our “self” (a product of the imagination) and our reality into alignment. The goal is to reach a state of ongoing awareness that accurately reflects the reality. We are LIFE’s project ― to be its mirror and agent. The mind can be trained to see that.
5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
LIFE’s protection operates through the images that we allow to pass through our minds. “All that we are,” says the Buddha, “is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.” If we are to imitate LIFE faithfully as human beings, it begins with what passes through our minds. If we cleave to LIFE in our thoughts, we will live.
Background. A pilgrimage psalm expressing awe and admiration for Jerusalem as the city of Yahweh’s Temple. There is special focus on “peace” which is evoked by the very name of the city, Jeru-salem, constructed on the Hebrew word for peace.
Reflection. The intrinsic interconnections among all things, what the Buddhists refer to as the effect of “dependent co-arising,” means that as a practical fact no one thing or person has its own “stand-alone” reality. All reality is effectively bound together in a massive collectivity which must be taken into account when attempting any intervention that would modify it. … for example, building a just and harmonious human society, for which “Jerusalem” is a metaphor. It’s not just a matter of respecting the input of all individuals in the decision making. The inclusion of the entire support network reaching to the health and stability of the life-sustaining systems of the earth itself, must form the real parameters of the question.
We no longer identify the sacred with any individual or tribe. The totality is sacred, though there are indications that even the totality ― our cosmos ― is not a “stand-alone” entity, responsible for its own existence. Regardless of the answer to any ultimate metaphysical questions, we cannot eliminate any factor in the intricate web of interactions that actually constitutes the world we live in if we want to survive. LIFE requires that we look carefully with our honest intelligence and well-researched science and respond for the sake of LIFE. That can only result in a more communal embrace of the widest possible communion of things. The days of clinging to a myopic focus on the individual, or even the ecclesiastical community are over. We are one interdependent people living in utter dependence on one another and the fragile planet’s life-support systems, of water, air, soil and energy. The whole thing has to be seen as one if we are to survive.
1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem” is a symbol, a metaphor for the community of LIFE. Our planet’s human community is clearly in control at this point in time, and must exercise its stewardship for the benefit of all, including future generations.
3 Jerusalem — built as a city that is bound firmly together.
4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.
“Peace” is sum and substance, the final effect of our prosperity and well-being. It is the symbol of what we work for, the goal of all individual transformation. Peace.
7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.
Background. Murphy calls this a community lament and situates it as exilic or post-exilic. The poetic figure of the servant girl is especially poignant. The dependency on Yahweh is total. The people are in subjection to a dominating human arrogance. They are defenseless.
Reflection. It is an indication of the overwhelming power of LIFE that the global human community could have done to itself what it did in the 20th century and not only still be-here, but be-here with renewed energy to transform itself for global justice and stewardship of earth’s family. LIFE is indomitable. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be eradicated, it means that while it is-here, it never gives up, it never loses hope, it never turns back. To end LIFE’s project, you have to exterminate it altogether, you will never beat it into submission or get it to surrender. This is what we are made of. This is what we are.
1 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.
LIFE exposes as fictions the machinations of fools who project a “superior” self by dominating others. The humble look to LIFE itself for their vindication.
Background. Murphy does not try to identify the psalm with any known event or era. But the rescue referred to was apparently quite dramatic, for the poet uses imagery that evokes Yahweh’s creative power over chaos itself ― the flood, the torrent, the raging waters ― but directed at human enemies who were like fowlers.
Fowlers captured unsuspecting birds with a snare activated by an unseen trigger. Totally beyond the ability of the victims to anticipate. This emphasizes the active vigilance of Yahweh on Israel’s behalf. Yahweh did not wait to have the danger identified and a call for help issued. He helped them when they didn’t even know they needed help.
Reflection. We don’t even know what LIFE is doing to help us because we cannot distinguish between ourselves and LIFE. But just as our very organisms are not ours ― we did not design them, we did not construct them, we did not insure that they would evolve from infancy to reproductive adulthood with consummate efficiency and perfection, we did not guarantee that we could reproduce our kind, we did not provide the pool of energy that would nourish us for a lifetime ― LIFE itself is not ours even though we use it and live by it. If LIFE had not been with us … If LIFE had not been on our side …
1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say —
2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
When we escape the threat of death, it’s like the moment of creation itself … . Instead of dying we live. Our reaction is ecstatic. And yet we have to remember, it is only a temporary reprieve. LIFE lives, but in collaboration with entropy. It has negotiated an extended period of living that will permit reproduction. After that, all bets are off. We are material organisms. That means we will ultimately succumb to entropy and we will die. That’s what living matter does. That’s what LIFE does in us. In our case LIFE is intrinsically impermanent. That is what we must embrace with trust. We trust LIFE’s collaboration with entropy because we see what that collaboration has done for us. We have nothing to fear.
4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.
6 Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
LIFE has made heaven and earth, and us. That is where our destiny lies, with living matter.
Background. The nation itself, Israel, is the person the poet takes on as his own. He is its voice. He trusts that the community chosen to embody the Torah will never be left under the control of evil rulers, otherwise its destiny as the display of Yahweh’s goodness will be thwarted. Yahweh is a God of justice and compassion, we are his people. We become evildoers when we “turn aside,” and abandon our true path.
Reflection. There are no “good people” or “bad people.” We are all just people who either do good or do bad by the way we turn. We are material organisms constructed of living matter. The torah, tao, dharma ― moral imperatives universally acknowledged and pursued ― are whole cloth with living matter. They are its human expression. Justice, compassion, generosity are the extension in human society of the abundant and even-handed generosity shown by LIFE’s material processes. There is an intrinsic and seamless continuity between the material dynamism of the body and the moral, spiritual, social dynamism of humankind. There is no separation, no opposition, no gaps, no hostility; there are no tears in the fabric and so there is nothing to sew back together. All things are evolved forms of the same living matter.
1 Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore.
3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, so that the righteous might not stretch out their hands to do wrong.
A just human society is the work of LIFE. An unjust society that is oppressed and oppressive, condoning the exploitation of the weak by the strong, runs counter to LIFE’s principal project: more LIFE. Using LIFE’s generous and disinterested dynamism to undermine the goals of LIFE is self-defeating. The two forces are in direct opposition. But LIFE always wins, because there is no life anywhere else. Those who think otherwise will soon learn.
4 Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.
5 But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers. Peace be upon Israel!
Background. Murphy call this a community lament. The psalm is obviously recalling the return from exile. As with similar poems which evoke the exodus, this one points to this new and spectacular demonstration of benevolent power toward Israel to remind Yahweh of his commitments … to call for continued support and to encourage the people.
Reflection. LIFE provides continual support to our efforts, whatever they are. The problem is that if we want success ― more LIFE ― it’s not LIFE’s already committed presence that we are missing and desperately need, it’s our own alignment with LIFE’s purposes and goals. It’s what we allow to go through our heads about who we are, and what we want. It is WE, as the agents of LIFE, who perform the “great deeds” of moral transformation ― the mental and emotional changes necessary for us to identify with the justice, compassion and generosity of LIFE.
1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
We call on the LIFE throbbing in our own bodies to rein in the rampaging thoughts and uncontrolled desires that keep us from being the agents and mirrors of LIFE. But there are not two things here, me and LIFE. There is only one, for I am LIFE in human form. If I imagine LIFE to have its own independent existence, it is a “personification,” a poetic hyperbole, a literary device that we have used since time immemorial to evoke our feelings of awe and intimacy. If there is any person that we can say LIFE literally looks like, that person is me.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Background. A “wisdom” psalm emphasizing the collaboration of Yahweh with the work of the Hebrew nation. Murphy suggests that what may have originally been two separate aphorisms were put together to form this poem. The “gate” is a symbol of judicial proceedings where, presumably, ones children will bear witness to the goodness of their parents.
Reflection. Humankind is the extension and expression of LIFE. As always it is our mindfulness about who we are, both as individuals and as a society, that guarantees the LIFE-likeness of our attitudes and our behavior. But this mirroring occurs in a material universe. Our moral commitment and social responsibility are in seamless continuity with the health and strength of our biological organisms. Living out the vision of the torah, the dharma, is as much a cleaving to LIFE as getting the proper sleep or providing ourselves with food, clothing and shelter. These are all the demands of our intelligent thinking bodies; they are all equally part of the dynamic of human LIFE. It is making sure we are doing the work of LIFE that guarantees the success of our labors.
This concrete survival focus of the ancient Hebrews stands in sharp contrast with the other-worldly, bodiless post-mortem goals proposed later by traditional Christianity. In that Plato-inspired Greek view, real life does not begin until after death, and the body’s basic needs and its reproductive urges are considered, at least, distractions from the exclusive interest in spiritual achievements, if not dangerous occasions of sin. The perspective of the ancients keeps our feet on the ground: we are material organisms trying to live in this world where justice compassion and generosity ― being human ― makes it a joy to be alive with our friends and family here and now.
1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.
This is a particularly appropriate counsel for our times when the absence of the ordinary survival satisfactions of manual labor drive many people to substitute for it the accumulation of symbols of wealth and individual superiority. They call it work, but it is really a “hustle,” the avoidance of real work. It comes from a disdain for work and for those who are consigned to do it. These are ego-building objectives, and they are empty; they involve an addicting endless pursuit which is never satisfied. LIFE is the accomplishment, and it is given us free from the start. The achievement of status ― superiority over others who are considered inferior ― adds nothing to our LIFE; the work of LIFE is to stay alive as mirrors and agents of LIFE, and help others do the same. That is the only true work. The rest is illusion.
3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.
5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
The suppression of the work of reproduction and child rearing in the interests of the accumulation of wealth and status is a clue to the inversion of LIFE values. There is no obligation for each individual to reproduce, but reproduction and family life must be recognized as the fundamental work of humankind and therefore the guide for the structuring of a just society and global community. Trying to become more than human is a delusion. The heedless headlong pursuit of delusion is insanity.
Background. Another wisdom psalm. This one is in the form of a “beatitude,” i.e., it presents the rewards that come from the “fear of Yahweh” herein defined as “walking in his ways.” The rewards are also defined: they are the wellbeing of the family and the health and strength of the progeny as the foundation and expression of the success of Yahweh’s community.
Reflection. This psalm reinforces the concrete survival and family focus of the previous one. LIFE is the embodiment of a very simple, uncomplicated dynamic: it is an expression of material energy’s inextinguishable need to be-here, in our case as biological organisms, on display in the conatus, the instinct for self-preservation which includes reproduction. This “passion to exist” ― to live and resist the dissolutions of entropy ― has entailed the evolution of material forms with an ever increasing degree of self-consciousness, and the ability to enlist its relationships to other forms LIFE in its efforts to be-here and to stay-here. The use of our penetrating intelligence and spontaneous empathy results in “wisdom:” the insight into the proper balance that should rule those relationships. That balance is the Dharma, the Torah, what the ancient Hebrews called “walking in his ways.” It is what LIFE looks like in human form. It is characterized by justice, compassion and generosity and it results in more LIFE for the entire network of relationships, first for the human family and the society that emerges from it, and then for the rest of earth’s community of emergent forms. Notice: there is no mention of another world. “Walking in his ways” brings joy and peace to our life in community here and now.
1 Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
4 Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
Living as the mirrors and agents of LIFE can only result in more LIFE. It is a marvelous phenomenon but there is nothing magic or miraculous about it. It is not the arbitrary reward of some demanding, judgmental “god.” It is not some experience of ethereal, solitary bliss in another world after death. It is very simple: a healthy and happy family. It is the natural and inevitable outcome of “walking in LIFE’s ways.”
5 The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
6 May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!
The benefits of walking in LIFE’s ways extend outward to the totality of things: horizontally beyond the human community to other species of life and the earth itself, and vertically through time, healing the karmic wounds of past failures and generating spiritually healthy future human individuals prepared to be the mirrors and agents of LIFE.
Even when focused on the future, the creators of these poems never considered life-after-death, alone and separated from their families and friends, spirits separated from their own bodies, something to hope for … much less that it was their natural destiny.
Background. A community lament. The poet reminds his readers of the many setbacks in Israel’s history resulting in oppression and enslavement, yet because of Yahweh, the nation is still intact. He asks Yahweh to punish these enemies, even to the point of their elimination. He likens their destiny to the grass seeds that sprout in the shallow debris on rooftops that wither and die before they can grow enough to even be called grass. There will be no harvesting for them, and no pity from their neighbors.
Reflection. Once again it is clear that LIFE itself is our refuge and our only support. LIFE boomerangs against those who think they can live without following its ways. They cannot. LIFE is the only life there is. Those who violently exploit others will find that LIFE does not support their adventures. At some point along the line, collaborating partners will refuse to cooperate, or the oppressed victims themselves will react with effective resistance in their own self-defense, or the very perpetrators will recoil in disgust at what they are doing. And at the end of the day, whatever else, the oppressors will die. They cannot create their own source of LIFE by amassing wealth and power over others. There is only one LIFE. It is fair to all and abundantly generous, but it is impermanent and requires detachment ― the ability to let go. Those who insist on having something else … the permanent possession of a non-evolving life, cannot walk in its ways.
1 “Often have they attacked me from my youth” — let Israel now say —
2 “often have they attacked me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed on my back; they made their furrows long.”
Life in a universe of matter is hard. But it becomes intolerable when we turn on one another like hungry mice trapped in an empty barrel, when some amass fortunes at the expense of the destitution of others in a vain attempt to achieve immortality. Selfish human oppression and exploitation intensifies the suffering of life exponentially. We cannot eliminate all suffering, but we have it in our power to eliminate the suffering caused by our own self-aggrandizing, ego-building actions. Toward this end we practice mindfulness as a tool in our effort to transform ourselves into the agents and mirrors of LIFE.
4 The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5 May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward.
6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops that withers before it grows up,
7 with which reapers do not fill their hands or binders of sheaves their arms,
8 while those who pass by do not say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
Those who think they can create another LIFE by despising others, arching their ego over others, sucking the life blood out of others, achieving a superiority that requires the denigration of others’ dignity and self-esteem, will fail. They will never know the simple joy of imitating LIFE in its self-emptying self-donation. The ultimate and unshakable happiness is to know oneself as LIFE. They will never know what that is, chasing an ersatz “life” of their own imagining. They are doomed to frustration because their goal will never come to maturity.
Background. An individual lament that ends revealing its community dimension. The forgiveness of the unnamed iniquities, assumed to be the source of some torment that is likewise not mentioned, is ultimately a collective matter like the relationship to Yahweh itself. Yahweh, as always, is the central focus, and his relationship is always to the community. The individual and Yahweh will find each other there.
Reflection. That LIFE is primarily focused on species is ultimately how we as individuals come to possess it. It’s because we belong to our family that we receive it. It is species-LIFE in which we live and move and have our being. We are bound by its ways, its limitations as well as its inclinations, aspirations and potential. “Iniquities” for us means forgetting who we are. It is the abandonment of LIFE’s indiscriminate, impermanent and collective energy in favor of an individualist, selfish, self-aggrandizing attempt to create a permanent parallel universe based on values and objectives that are of our own personal creation and for our own individual benefit alone or our isolated tribe. Those ersatz values are inevitably as selfish and disdainful of “others,” however that may be currently defined, as the original motivation.
What we like to call our “creativity” can easily slip beyond the boundaries of LIFE’s abundant and even-handed generosity into a selfish self-projection that is unsustainable. It is unsustainable not because we have disobeyed the will of some “god,” but because we have abandoned what we are as intelligent, empathetic, species-based biological organisms nested with sibling species on the planet that spawned us, in favor of some fiction that does not exist. We belong to LIFE because we are LIFE in human form, and that form is biological and collective ― we are made of living matter and living matter necessarily emanates the “one and the many” ― life in species-form. LIFE’s ways are necessarily our ways. Discerning what that means for our mental attitudes and our conduct in this material universe ― how we think and choose to interact ― has been the quest of the human family since time immemorial.
It is as a member of a species that each of us must work out our destiny. Despite being socially conditioned, every individual in every age must appropriate this quest for themselves. Since each of us is in direct touch with LIFE welling up from moment to moment in the deep interior of our organisms, each of us must call on LIFE ― that LIFE ― to compare what our community recommends with what LIFE is demanding. Our intelligent biological LIFE is the direct and irrepressible source of our communitarian instincts, our sense of fairness, our empathetic compassion for others who share the burden of LIFE, and our conatus ― the insistent drive to preserve and enhance the LIFE we all share. Nothing can substitute for that active comparison and the subsequent application of correctives back into the community.
Blindly surrendering one’s obligation in this regard to the dictates of the community, or attempting to abandon one’s reality as the member of a collectivity, constitutes a major betrayal of one’s humanity. It is precisely such abandonment that is responsible for the tribal substitutions that work to divide and destroy LIFE’s human family. The unthinking literal embrace of the ancient Hebrew poetry that we encounter in the psalms and other ancient writings is a prime example of that abandonment. The very exercise in which we are engaged here ― revisiting these ancient prayers ― is an attempt to make the required comparison: to subject this cherished inheritance to the bar of the intelligence and empathy our species’ biological LIFE.
If we cry out to LIFE, as the poet does to Yahweh in this psalm, we have to understand what we are doing. LIFE resides in us as individuals of a species. We are in touch with it through the intelligence enabled by our brains and the empathy activated by mirror neurons working together with the hormones of our endocrine system ― all evolved features of our collective survival. LIFE translates immediately to torah, dharma, tao, ― basic social morality. We know LIFE is strong and healthy. When our social lives suddenly become full of pain, we instinctively look for how we have deviated from the healthy practices proper to our human organisms, and try to bring our habits back into alignment with our species. Our individual moral conduct is simply the extension in our relationships, to ourselves and to others, of those healthy practices ― practices that align with LIFE itself and its primary orientation to our species. LIFE’s fundamental dynamic in human terms translates to justice, compassion and generosity toward ourselves and to the earth and all its species from which we ourselves have evolved and with whom we are always interlocked.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
The parameters of our individual lives are defined by the living matter ― LIFE ― in which we live and move and have our being. We rely on our organism’s LIFE to bring us inerrantly from conception to birth and from infancy to adulthood. We trust LIFE to provide us with a strong conatus, with bodies that correctly process the food and air we take in as fuel and sustenance, to activate its healing recuperative powers when we are sick or wounded, to provide support in the form of instinctive collaboration and assistance from other human beings in our struggles to stay alive, to maintain a balance among the biota of earth so we will not be overwhelmed by pathogens or predators that will exterminate us or destroy our water, air or food supply. We count on LIFE to forgive what we have done to ourselves and to the earth. LIFE will always comply unless we make it impossible.
That is “iniquity.” To trammel LIFE’s abundant, open-hearted, life-giving generosity with our selfish insistence that it serve us alone, as individuals or as an isolated tribe, is the one thing that will stymie LIFE’s efforts to “save” us. LIFE can transcend past “iniquities” only if we allow it to LIVE.
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who wait for the dawn.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
Background. There is no historical or literary context for this very short, simple, unadorned declaration of inner serenity, inspired by hope in Yahweh.
Reflection. The deep calm quietly acknowledged by the poet in this psalm is unique. There is no content, only a metaphor that describes his inner state: like that of a child already weaned and detached even from the craving for his mother’s breast. Just as a child is at peace, unconcerned with the matters that create anxiety in adults, and even, with this vivid image, freed from the urgings of his infancy, the poet displays a stillness that in all respects is unassailable.
This is the goal of the Buddhist practice of meditation and continual mindfulness. Living always in the present moment means to not be distracted by the apparent permanent reality of the images that float through our minds creating cravings and aversions that are the substance of human suffering and the source of the injustices that are perpetrated in the effort to allay them. Knowing that all things (including our mental constructions) are empty of self ― lacking permanent existence ― we have the basis for detachment.
Of course detachment is only one side of the coin. But the other ― a side that is equally empty because it is equally co-dependent ― is reliance on things as they really are, which means relying on LIFE as it actually functions in our material universe and biological organisms. We are not spirit gods, the spawn of some “Great Spirit God,” we are the evolved forms of living matter derived from the molecular components found on our particular planet in the proportions produced by earth’s particular astrophysical and geologic history. We are not separate from nor do we stand above earth’s other material forms; we are one of them, we evolved from them, sharing the same components in the same proportions and the same connections to the environment that supports our common life. The reflective imagination which in us exceeds what is known in all other forms of life, represents a difference in degree, not kind, of a self-consciousness that we all have in common.
Thus, for us, serenity comes from our sense of belonging: from seeing our oneness with all things ― our common possession of living matter, LIFE, and our common debt to the ancestors we all evolved from for the form and LIFE they passed on to us.
1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore.
Background. Roland Murphy calls this a liturgical psalm, though the feast is unclear. It suggests some form of ritual re-enactment of David’s discovery and enthronement of the Ark of the Covenant. (Vss 1-5 reflect an imaginative expanded version of the events of 2 Sam 7.) It is also suggestive of the political transition of Israel from a federation of independent tribes to a centralized nation under a monarch ― here identified as David ― and the transfer of the promises of the exodus to the success of David’s line.
Reflection. This psalm can be taken as a religious justification for theocracy wed to autocracy. It would seem to reflect the post-exilic efforts of the founders of the second temple to ground their political future on a king of David’s line. These efforts do not represent a religious advance as much as a use of religion to legitimize a political choice. The post-exilic religious advance is represented rather by Job and the prophets, who began to adumbrate a relationship to Yahweh that was genetic and intimately familiar, and not an obedience-based contract between the denizens of different power strata for the mutual aggrandizement of each: wealth and power for the Israelites and an ego-enhancement for Yahweh. The result is the transformation of the relationship into a universal field of loving-kindness.
Our relationship to LIFE corresponds to the dawning vision of the prophets: that we are genetically related to our source as offspring to parent, even as we are well aware that all the generative power and creativity comes from our source ― living matter ― LIFE. We did not give ourselves LIFE; LIFE was passed on to us through our species-life. We did not design our intelligent bodies either in structure or inner dynamism; we have marvelous brains and we grow infallibly from conception to reproductive maturity because of resident energies that we do not understand even as we see them unfolding right before our eyes. We are constructed of the very same material components and in virtually the same proportions as every other “thing,” living and non-living, that has emerged from the energy pool of our planet. We are the net recipients of the creative power of living matter which we activate as our very own as a species. All this suggests that any attempt to identify the LIFE-source as an independent and separately existing “thing” different from us, like a “god” who lives off in another world, can only be metaphor. We are living matter ― LIFE ― in its most evolved form on earth at the present time. All of our instincts, all of our abilities, all of our drives, all of our cravings, fears, yearnings come from living matter as it has evolved over eons of time in its efforts to continue to be-here. WE, humankind, ARE THAT!
The belief, implied in the sentiments expressed in this psalm, that the political and economic ascendancy of one tribe, the Hebrews, represents the fulfillment of the promises of LIFE, is archaic and delusional. It came from the autocratic character of the conquerors to whom Israel was subject for much of its defining history and from which it derived its aspirations. It is bogus. It has been transcended by the evolved religious visions of all major traditions, including the psalmists’ own Judaism.
It is fruitless and even dangerous to return to it, even as metaphor. For as metaphor, in the case of Christianity, the application of the “promises to David” as prophesies of Christ, resulted in the creation of an oppressive theocratic tyranny ― the Church of the Roman Empire ― every bit as inhuman as the worst dictatorships of our past. The continued use of this psalm by many in our time to justify belief in the elevation of the American Republic into a world dominating empire governed by those considered “chosen” because they are wealthy, reflects this vision of things. It is obsolete and pathological. It is time it was abandoned. Besides requiring violence and the suppression of truth in its establishment, its products run counter to the universally fair and abundant dynamic on which LIFE operates.
We pray this psalm, therefore, as a museum piece ― a reminder of how far we have come and the molting we have left behind in our spiritual evolution toward embracing our destiny as the agents and mirrors of LIFE. Meditating on these antediluvian sentiments helps us understand the mind-set of those in our times who still yearn for such things. Perhaps by understanding where their delusions come from, we can come to agree that we all have to move along.
1 O LORD, remember in David’s favor all the hardships he endured;
2 how he swore to the LORD and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
3 “I will not enter my house or get into my bed;
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,
5 until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Murphy says there is no record in the historical books that David made a vow to postpone “getting into bed” (which may refer to the temporary renunciation of marital comforts, a frequent accompaniment of epic deeds in ancient literature). The phrase “Mighty One of Jacob” evokes the Yahweh of the federated tribes of the exodus. In light of the new emphasis on the autocratic Davidic line now being the recipient of the divine favor, it suggests the ideological architects of Second Temple Israel are trying to use the ancient foundations for the new autocratic edifice.
6 We heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar.
7 “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool.”
8 Rise up, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.
9 Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your faithful shout for joy.
10 For your servant David’s sake do not reject your anointed one.
The “anointed one” is evidently the current king, “one of the sons” of David’s body.
11 The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees that I shall teach them, their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne.”
All these “sons” are kings. As in psalm 89, Yahweh’s relationship is imagined as exclusively to the king. Zion and its people are evoked in the next four verses as the ultimate ground of this special relationship, but then the psalm returns to its principal theme and purpose: to proclaim the divine legitimacy of the king. This psalm seems to be political hype. Whatever it may have meant for the Jewish people recently returned from the exile, for us it is not prayer.
13 For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation:
14 “This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless its provisions; I will satisfy its poor with bread.
16 Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy.
17 There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
18 His enemies I will clothe with disgrace, but on him, his crown will gleam.”
Background. A wisdom psalm that extols a loving community without specifying. It is conceivable that it is meant to cover all types, including the family. But there are a chain of images that suggest some kind of proto-monastic community comprised of priests and attendants living together in the Temple. There is the clear reference to Aaron. The mention of the dew from Mt. Hermon at the northern limits of Palestine, which is acknowledged as heavier than anywhere else in Israel’s domains, may be intended to evoke the Jordan which has its headwaters there and may be imagined as starting from droplets of dew. Also, there are the ruins of an extensive ancient sanctuary of Baal situated on the mountain-top of Hermon and it is probable that that site was believed to be a residence of the gods since pre-historic times.
The Hebrews did not believe in an afterlife. But living together in love is the greatest blessing Yahweh gives. It is life itself, and fuliflls all our aspirations. We need nothing more.
Reflection. Gods come and gods go, the human sense of the sacred remains throughout time, transferring its awe and depth of poetry to each flag-bearer in turn. Baal gives way to Yahweh and the symbols and rituals and poetry associated with his worship are passed on to the new, younger and stronger god. Jupiter and Juno yield to Jesus and Mary and the martyrs; all the Roman basilicas, shrines, temples and sanctuaries move with them.
For us the sense of our own sacredness, and the sacredness of our families and clans and villages causes us to presume that the source of this sacredness must itself be the very quintessence of the sacred. Where else would we have gotten it? So yes. Living together in love is the most precious thing we have. It must be the very heart of reality.
1 How very good and delightful it is to live together as kindred!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
Background. A psalm of praise. Murphy makes scant comment. The act engendered ― awe ― is transhistorical. There is no context. Existence, LIFE, being-here ― is to die for! When is praise NOT appropriate?
Reflection. LIFE is not only who we are, it is also what everyone (and everything) else is. So how do we objectify it? Any objectification has got to be figurative … metaphorical … because the fact is utterly and unapologetically subjective. Each says: “I am alive.” “I am here.” There is nothing more to say.
1 Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD.
3 May the LORD, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.
Background. Murphy situates this psalm of praise with the priests of the Temple, a feature in keeping with the other psalms nearby in the list. “Servants” and those that “stand in the house of Yahweh” are probably priests. Focus on this elite corps may explain the absence of reference to tribes other than Levi and “the sons of Aaron.” The curious failure to mention the crossing of the Red Sea and the contract of Sinai, both items of universal inclusion for all the Israelites, may also be explained by this emphasis on the priests. In v. 5, the poetry shifts suddenly to the first person, who may be imagined as the high priest or even the king himself, a frequent theme in the post-exilic psalms in this neighborhood in the collection.
Reflection. The clear realization that LIFE isn’t only mine, but belongs equally and with equal intensity and insistence in all things, is responsible for the growing suspicion that LIFE also has a separate and independent existence. This vague and unspecified sense is responsible for the most profound mystery that we encounter during our time under the sun ― the utterly inexplicable feature of our universe ― that, simultaneously, we all are and are not one homogeneous thing, constructed of the same particles and interior energy, and uniquely our individual selves. We are LIFE and yet LIFE transcends each and all of us, and therefore must somehow be its own self beyond all the things that it enlivens. I reluctantly use words like “separate” or “independent” or “self,” for there is no evidence of either LIFE or the things that live ever being-here without one another. “Beyond” says nothing. It is a temporary placeholder for this inescapable awareness that we can address LIFE as another … but not really.
Praise, the leitmotiv of this psalm and the psalms surrounding it in the collection, belongs to this growing but vague and unobservable sense of the otherness of LIFE. But the reluctance immediately returns. It is gratuitous and even possibly dangerous to utter any proposition that accepts the reality of the separate and independent existence of things or the force that enlivens them for there is no evidence for any such separation and independence. All of living reality is bound together in a process of mutual inherence, creative interaction and transcendent evolutionary emergence, and all energized by the same force of LIFE. The awe we feel is, in fact, not for any single feature but for the universal process which, as observed and measured, shows no evidence whatsoever sufficient and necessary to acknowledge a separate and independent LIFE.
All we have to go on is our appreciation for the absence of our own personal authorship of any of the features of our own existence that we cherish most highly ― our being-here itself, and the various biological processes indigenous to our own organisms that are responsible for ontogenesis (our individual inerrant biological development from zygote to reproductive adulthood), the ability to reproduce another human being, our abilities to interact consciously and effectively within human society and with the living environment of our planet. All these things are totally and mysteriously beyond our authorship, control and in most cases even comprehension, and yet the simplest and most primitive of us manage them deftly, spontaneously, instinctively without preparation or education. If we know that we are not the authors of these things, what is … and who are we?
This mystery is compounded exponentially when we add the fact that the same is true of every living individual of every one of the almost infinite number of species on the planet.
1 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; give praise, O servants of the LORD,
2 you that stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God.
3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for he is gracious.
4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.
It is the mystery of LIFE that compels my awe and gratitude, for my being-here was not mine to decide. It’s as if I were chosen. And yet, look at this panoply around me ― this immense universe of things ― were they chosen?
5 For I know that the LORD is great; our Lord is above all gods.
6 Whatever the LORD pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
No people stands above others. Those that attempt it are levelled by LIFE. We are all the random offspring of LIFE. No one is special.
8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both human beings and animals;
9 he sent signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants.
The inevitable derogation of all presumptions to national ascendancy in the service of the enslavement, exploitation and dehumanization of others is a perennial pattern displayed by LIFE. No ownership lasts, whether of abilities, goods, or even the land itself. All is to be shared among all. All belongs to all. Even the animals, from the lowest to the highest, will be nourished on our bodies.
10 He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings —
11 Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan —
12 and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel.
13 Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.
14 For the LORD will vindicate his people, and have compassion on his servants.
This is the work of LIFE which belongs to all of us. Those who concoct “gods” who belong to one tribe alone, are fooling themselves. They are nothing but figments of their imagination, the fantasies of children who play their games set in imaginary far off lands until they are exhausted and must go home to eat and sleep with their real families.
15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see;
17 they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.
Those who serve at the sanctuary of LIFE have seen through the glittering delusions of grandeur that we all create to avoid sharing and sitting quietly in gratitude alongside others. Whatever we have, is the gift of LIFE. Those who insist that they themselves created what they have been given, suffer all the more intensely when it is taken away.
19 O house of Israel, bless the LORD! O house of Aaron, bless the LORD!
20 O house of Levi, bless the LORD! You that fear the LORD, bless the LORD!
21 Blessed be the LORD from Zion, he who resides in Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!
Background. A psalm of thanksgiving focused on the liberation and establishment of Israel, obviously designed for antiphonal recitation with the “chorus” line repeated for each verse. An intro announces the theme: thanksgiving for Yahweh’s great works, which are then listed poetically beginning with creation but proceeding immediately to the events of the Exodus and the conquest of Palestine. No other historical landmark is discernible. The “low estate” and “rescue from our foes” is used as a summary coda ― a recapitulation of the thematic introduction.
Reflection. We are who we are ― we are constitutive members of this cosmic community ― because of the living matter we share. There is no other basis for our identity, and so we have no other identity … neither clan, nor tribe, nor nation, nor species. We belong to the community of the earth which belongs to the community of the heavens. The quarks and muons which constitute the atoms and molecules of my heart and brain are the same quarks and muons roiling in in the hydrogen and helium transformations occurring in the heart of stars located in far off galaxies. They are the same material energy now in the new evolved forms they have assumed after eons and eons of random interaction and fortuitous reconfiguration. The infinite variety within this homogeneous totality is the origin of “the one and the many” which is ground zero for the philosophía perennis of the West. It is the heart of the mystery.
1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
It is LIFE ― matter’s transcendent living energy ― that has created the heavens and the earth, the seas and the stars … evolving all things, little by little.
4 who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
It is that same LIFE that makes us one human family by calling us to liberate ourselves from our mental slavery to a delusional superior permanent self and delusional tribal dreams of supremacy and domination. It is hard to free ourselves from these delusions of grandeur, and costly. But we can trust LIFE to lead us inerrantly out of this primal bondage, though we never see its footprints. What looks impossible suddenly happens and we are free!
10 who struck Egypt through their firstborn,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
What we find when we have crossed to the other shore is more LIFE than we had ever dreamed possible. A new land and a new community where we celebrate the victory over our conquered enemies: the personal and tribal delusions we once pursued born of our despair and mistrust of LIFE.
17 who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed famous kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to his servant Israel,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
In our emptiness we now see we had no need of anything but the LIFE we had all along. Our conquests over the delusional selfishness that was responsible for the arrogant violence with which we lived, have brought us back to the quiet simplicity of childhood: we have passed beyond fear and sorrow because we are filled with LIFE. Our needy greedy selves have disappeared along with the nightmares and fantasies that fed them.
23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
But don’t be fooled. We are nothing special. LIFE provides all its offspring with what they really need.
25 who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
26 O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Background. A lament of the Exile. The vivid imagery suggests that the poet is recalling a lived experience. He evokes the taunts of the slaveholders in Babylon, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, and the concurrent insurrection of the Edomite minority who had evidently not fared well under their Israelite overlords. His call for a horrific vengeance in the final strophe indicates both the depth of his anger and the shallowness of his morality.
Reflection. A Reggae song from the late sixties, “Rivers of Babylon,” immortalized this psalm as a metaphor for the generalized alienation of the human condition. We all feel like strangers in a strange land. We all somehow remember who we are, or at least who we used to be, and yearn to return and repossess ourselves in our “own land.”
The song insightfully incorporates a verse from psalm 19: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight …”. Indeed, it is meditation and mindfulness that alone can bring us back to ourselves. To “remember Zion” is to remember who we are. We have LIFE, and so we are always at home with ourselves. We become strangers when we lose our “souls.” We meditate to remind ourselves we are alive.
Our alienation derives from the bondage that we have sold ourselves into for the sake of our survival ― or what we are persuaded is our survival. The enslavements are potentially infinite. We can latch onto one external factor after another and claim it will save us. But it is all delusion, all of it. Nothing can save us because we do not need saving. Everything we lean on as a substitute for our own joyous self-embrace and autonomous self-actuation ― even “God,” or “spirituality,” or meditative mindfulness ― is potentially enslaving. LIFE is all we need … and we already have it, double measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. Mindfulness does not give us LIFE. We already have LIFE. Mindfulness reminds us that we are alive.
All thoughts of vengeance are torn out by the roots, recognized as primitive pre-moral knee-jerk reactions. LIFE’s generosity elicits a corresponding generosity from us. We have compassion because we understand. We are all strangers, captives to our delusional conatus which when undisciplined and misinformed, runs wild with fear. It is easy to forget, we are alive!
1 By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
We feel like strangers in our own bodies. From the satiety of infancy through the relative peace of a safe and secure childhood surrounded by loving kindred we are plunged into the voracious demands of adulthood: to reproduce offspring and secure all the attendant necessities for that purpose ― a partner and a recognized place in society with the means of sustenance and survival. From these needs arise the psychic sense of distance from ourselves. We are always trying to get something that we feel we do not have and our conatus tells us we cannot survive without. The mindset of a needy self, eventually achieves a “reality” of its own from sheer uninterrupted habituation. Desire is no longer perceived as connected with the objects desired and floats as a vague identified need at the core of the organism ready to turn any urge into a mindless craving with the very survival of the ego in the balance.
This is the state of alienation in which many have been so submerged for so long that they have forgotten that they themselves are alive; they feel driven to secure life from elsewhere by satisfying their cravings. The satisfaction of desire has come to substitute for the possession of LIFE. Such a loss of self is the ever present danger of the human condition. We are all susceptible to it. It calls for our deepest compassion.
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Our enemies call for our destruction. How do we bear this? First, we understand that they are not our enemies and are reacting from error and the delusions that trap all of us: that survival can be secured by coercing the labor of others. Perhaps we ourselves have contributed to this …
7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
Did the Israelites try to consign the Edomites to inferiority and try to coerce their labor? Why else would they have called for israel’s destruction?
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
Here is where we take issue with the poet and terminate a thread of thought that we will no longer permit to shape our feelings. The instinctive urge for vengeance, which simulates justice, is another delusion. Vengeance is not justice, and the ghoulish glee taken at the thought of wreaking the utmost pain on one’s enemies by torturing their children is itself an abomination beyond forgiveness. This is not justice. It is a sick self-indulgent fantasy and has no place in anyone’s religious poetry.
Forebearance ― forgiveness ― despite appearances is compatible with justice. It disregards instantaneous pseudo justice and the ego satisfaction it feeds on, which only precipitates more injustice. It rejects vengeance in the service of a justice that can endure ― a justice to which all contribute, perpetrators and victims alike. It is not easy to do. Those who see, train and discipline themselves in anticipation of the opportunity.