translations are from the New RSV
This is the first of two sections of Commentary on the psalms. It includes psalms 1 to 99. From psalm 100 to the end, see section two, also found in the list of “Pages.”
Background: This psalm is not a prayer. It is called a “wisdom” psalm because it follows the patterns of the wisdom literature and offers advice and encouragement. It seems to have been appended to the corpus of the psalms after their collection on the return from Babylon, and perhaps as late as the Septuagint (third century BCE), as an introductory counsel and exhortation. Its later addition may have been a factor in the alternate numbering between the Septuagint and Hebrew Manuscripts.
It utilizes the usual parallelisms that characterize all Hebrew poetry. It focuses centrally on the law, the Torah, and establishes the paradigm that functions throughout the wisdom literature: the Torah translates into wisdom, and it is wisdom that will guarantee a long life, heath, security and happiness.
Clearly it was selected as introductory because of the simple stark choice that it offers. It sets the tone for all the psalms. Make a decision, it says. There are only two choices, life or death. Choose LIFE.
Reflection. Happiness is choosing LIFE, following the instructions of our conscience, the law embedded in our flesh that guides us.
But be careful. It’s not a dry quid pro quo business decision. Don’t be fooled. There is no reward for good behavior. When you choose LIFE, you get more than you bargained for. You will soon see that you have chosen your LIFE. It will become your delight, your fascination, your obsession. You will fall in love with it. You will think about it day and night … you will forget about other things.
It is your LIFE, and with it you and your people will grow and flourish. It becomes more LIFE.
It seems like a choice, but is it, really? What’s the alternative? Who would choose death? Who wants to be blown away with the wind and live isolated from people? That’s what’s at stake, nothing less.
What’s behind it all is the very Source of your own LIFE. That means it is your own LIFE — your real self with others — that hangs in the balance. It is yourself and your people you are choosing when you choose LIFE.
1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
|“Happy.” For the psalmist there is no afterlife, so as always, he is thinking of earthly happiness. Living by the “law,” the Torah, (similar to the Tao, the “way” of the universe), doesn’t earn happiness as a reward, rather it is happiness itself, because it is the way of justice and love.
“Prosperity” is the achievement of social harmony, justice, peace, mutual assistance — the source of all human security and joy, physical and psychological.
“the wicked” end up being destroyed, isolated, rejected by the community not because “God” punishes them, but because LIFE’s happiness — a human community of justice and love — is to be found following the instructions of the Torah. The wicked “scoff” at this to their peril.
Background. A royal psalm for the accession of a new king. It is focused on affirming the legitimacy of the king by establishing his choice by Yahweh. Canaanite tributaries are warned not to use the occasion to revolt. After the exile when Israel had no subordinates it would have been taken to refer to a future fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise of ascendancy to David’s successors. Yahweh, after all, is the universal God of creation and disposes of all “the nations” as he sees fit. The universal dominion of Yahweh’s king is rooted in the promises to David, hence it was assimilated into the Messianic expectations. Israel’s kings are Yahweh’s anointed, his adopted sons following a Mesopotamian model, therefore to oppose the king is to oppose Yahweh and face his destructive wrath.
Roland Murphy says “in one of the variant readings to Acts 13:33, Psalm 2 is called the first psalm.” [Brown et al eds., The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1968, p. 526a (OT)] This suggests that for some pre-Christian Hebrew manuscripts, placing the royal psalm of Yahweh’s promises to David at the beginning of the book established the theme of the entire collection. It helps us understand why Jewish Christians, whose belief that Jesus was the messiah was confirmed by a chain of messianic prophesies that traditionally served for Jewish reflection and anticipation, would have emphatically applied this psalm both to Christ and to the (royal) persons designated to rule in his name.
Augustine saw Christ as the king and the “bonds” and “cords” of control as the Christian religion imposed on all the lands and peoples of the Roman Empire: “the Name and rule of Christ is to pervade posterity and possess all nations.” [St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms (Kindle Location 280). Kindle Edition.]
Famously set to triumphant music by Handel in 1742 as part of the Messiah oratorio, this psalm has entered western culture as an affirmation of the Christian belief in the universal dominion of Christ and by implication the Christian religion. Christian nations like England, where Handel was living when he composed the music in the 18th century, were even then eagerly conquering, colonizing and exploiting people all over the globe in the name of Christian mission.
Reflection. The fixed features of this ancient psalm have all changed for us. We know that it is not Yahweh but LIFE that creates and enlivens this universe of matter. If Christians insist on thinking of Christ as the psalmist’s king, we know it can no longer be taken as a prophetic literalism the way it has been traditionally understood. Jesus is not the “only-begotten son” of LIFE itself requiring that all people take him as model and teacher or submit to the Church that claims to represent him. We have to adjust the dynamics: Jesus is “son” like the rest of us. We are all the offspring of LIFE. Jesus unreservedly embraced LIFE as his “father” and when we do the same we join with him as agents of LIFE along with any other human being who makes that choice. We are free to accept Jesus as model and teacher, but the LIFE he reveals is the same LIFE that enlivens all of us, regardless of religious tradition. Jesus is LIFE the way we all are: he displays LIFE’s contours in his moral choices, affective attitudes and social commitments. Like all of us Jesus was enlivened by matter’s living intelligent human energy … the difference, perhaps, was his flawless fidelity to LIFE’s selfless profligate generosity, but it’s a matter of degree, not kind. Jesus can be a model for us because he is made of exactly the same clay as we are.
We reject the theocratic implications of Augustine’s reading. We are completely opposed to the belief that a preeminent empire or religious institution represents LIFE and has been given hegemony over the human race. We do not believe LIFE chooses rulers or religions to act in its name, any more than it intervenes with the processes of plate tectonics to prevent earthquakes. LIFE acts by enlivening the people who confer legitimacy on the systems of governance and religious practices that they have chosen, just as LIFE sustains the natural order in every respect without interference or interruption. There are no miracles … not even psychological ones.
It cannot be emphasized enough: the tribalism that is intrinsically embedded in the ancient Hebrew view of the world … a tribalism upgraded by Augustinian Catholicism into Roman theocratic imperialism … is the most stubborn of the pathological legacies inherited by us from our tradition. It seems almost impossible to extirpate, especially after it has been applied to such devastating effect in an exploitive global colonialism whose dynamics continue to produce enormous wealth for its historical perpetrators. The West is invested in the belief in its own superiority and the Christian religion was an essential factor in the creation of that fantasy. It is our demon par excellence, and if the psalms are to become an instrument of LIFE, that demon must be exorcized.
The very fact that Jesus and his message could have been taken hostage for so long and at such depths of moral inversion by the Roman theocracy and its successors, should be standing proof that Christianity … and more emphatically its primitive Roman Catholic iteration … could not possibly be the special choice of LIFE. Moreover, if at some future moment, leveraged by the economic and political power of the imperialist west, Christianity should ever come to be the world’s dominant religion, it will be further proof that there is no divine providence.
Augustine’s naïve version of divine providence had to conclude that “the way things are” has been foreseen and willed by “God.” It is the most pernicious (and transparent) of deceits, and stands cheek by jowl with humanoid theism at the foundational underpinnings of injustice in human society. The institutionalized acceptance of injustice, evidenced in the perennial existence of the master-slave relationship in Christian society inherited from Rome, is a persistent outrage against LIFE’s synteresis; it constitutes a raw open wound that threatens to go septic at any moment and destroy the entire organism. To tolerate injustice is to contradict human intelligence — to disconnect yourself from LIFE. You cannot do that without precipitating your own death.
The social “bonds” and “cords” that we acknowledge and impose upon ourselves are the norms of justice that create a brotherly harmony and creative equality among all the peoples of the earth. But universalism does not mean a robotic homogeneity. The norms of justice and love apply to sustaining cultures and traditions as well as the eradication of economic and political inequality. The human surrender to the dictates of conscience creates a family of peoples who are empowered to come to a collaborative consensus on the issues of economic production and distribution that work for the survival of all. Our “Israel” is the global community; and the “rebel nations” are those people and groups, blinded by their erroneous self-definition as superior to others, who currently refuse to submit to the demands of LIFE, deny our global family identity and would consign us to the eternal nightmare of internecine warfare. Their interest in others is limited to pillaging their possessions and exploiting their labor. This is not merely repugnant to our sensibilities, no one committed to LIFE will tolerate it.
1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling
12 kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.
|Why do people pursue the interests of their tribe alone? Why do they set themselves against LIFE and the human family? Why are they ever planning ways to dominate, exploit and enslave others?
They refuse to obey the demands of LIFE.
But LIFE will not be thwarted.
y rejecting LIFE they isolate themselves. Mutual hatred ultimately spells death.
But as for you, LIFE wants to make you its champion.
And it will transform you into the offspring of LIFE itself.
You will bring people together; the tribal blindness will disappear,
the age-old walls of separation will crumble into dust at your touch.
Be warned, therefore, you who take your stand against LIFE and the human family.
This is not a trifling matter … LIFE will not allow it. Obey LIFE!
Serve LIFE or you will shrivel and die.
Embrace LIFE and you will flourish.
Background. This begins a series of five “laments.” This one was attributed to David. It appears to have been originally designed as a prayer uttered by the king, which later became “democratized” for use by any client of the priests in a similar situation. The theme is trust. Yahweh’s help can be relied on; it sustains the king’s dignity and self-confidence. He can afford to sleep, i.e., he can relax his vigilance, because he knows Yahweh will protect him even in battle surrounded by tens of thousands of enemies. Yahweh responds to the king’s call by actively engaging in combat, not only on his behalf but, because he is the king, for the sake of his people.
Reflection. The issue for us is also combat. But from our perspective in history the combat we face is for the transformation of humankind into a global family energized and committed to LIFE. This is true both for the individuals who use this prayer, as well as the community of LIFE’s global offspring to which the individuals belong and whose wellbeing they serve.
Those on the path to personal transformation are beset by “foes,” the great multitude of selfish urges, negative thoughts, cultural beliefs and cynical acquaintances that undermine our determination to become empowered, thoroughly compassionate, generous, just and loving human beings. We must contend with the fury of our emotional demons which, in defense of a false “self,” focus not only on our delusions of grandeur as well as defects, failures and impotence, but also on what appears to be the indifference of LIFE itself. You can’t trust LIFE to help you, they say, it just doesn’t care.
But we are in touch with our own LIFE at the interior depths where LIFE and our own life mesh and are one and the same thing, and we feel the undeniable presence of our own potential — the insuperable moral power that derives from that co-existence. It’s a voice we hear quite clearly. It is real. We are not alone in this combat. We are energized by LIFE itself and we know other people are as well. It changes our state of mind completely. We can stop worrying. LIFE is present; it is in command and can be trusted. We will win this struggle.
But the coherence of the global community of justice is also under assault from a multitude of “enemies:” naysayers and predators dedicated to exploiting every opportunity for their own advantage and to advance the narrow interests of their tribe with its claims to preeminence. LIFE’s power in the hands of its champion, the “king,” the servant of LIFE, redounds to the welfare of LIFE’s global community.
1 O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.”
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
4 I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy hill.
5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
6 I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around
7 Rise up, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Deliverance belongs to the LORD; may your blessing be on your people!
| O my LIFE, my head is filled with negative thoughts. They tell me personal transformation for the service of others is a meaningless pursuit. LIFE doesn’t care.
But I don’t believe that! You are my source, LIFE, the ground of my identity, my dignity and my strength.
I called out to my LIFE, and it answered from the place deep within me where it lives. I heard it clearly. LIFE itself is there. I can stop worrying. I am in good hands. I am safe.
The ten thousand voices that tell me I’m just wasting my time are delusion.
Help me, LIFE, feel the strength in your arm. Drive those fears away once and for all.
I had a victory today, but I know it was really you, LIFE, that won it; may the strength we wield together serve your people.
Background. An individual lament and a psalm of trust, similar to the previous psalm without the royal allusions. The context here seems to have been a forensic situation of some kind and the petitioner unjustly accused, perhaps of idolatry. “God of my right” means God knows of the rightness of his claims, and has seen him through similar accusations before (“gave him room”). His accusers are liars and are dragging his reputation through the dirt. But Yahweh protects those who keep his covenant therefore he knows that he will be vindicated.
The rest of the psalm seems to address others who may be in similar circumstances, are worried and may be tempted to turn to idols for help. But they should wait it out; don’t turn to idols, trust in Yahweh and offer sacrifices to him alone. They lack confidence; they want to see some sign of Yahweh’s support. The psalmist offers himself as a sign. He enjoys a peace of mind that’s like the feeling you have after a good harvest when your granaries are full and your wine barrels are overflowing. He can take off his armor and sleep peacefully for he knows Yahweh will keep him safe.
Reflection. From our perspective our “enemies” are essentially of our own making, either from our individual demons or from other human beings who disrespect and exploit the community. In either case calling on LIFE means calling on the energy that lays coiled at the confluence of LIFE and human life both for myself and for others. It is a sacred energy driven by justice and full of natural confidence in oneself and trust in the just instincts of others. This is the energy that the “enemies” would undermine. Their defeat, at either the individual or community level, coincides with a release of energy — a clarity of mind and a sense of confidence — that had been so suppressed earlier that its emergence almost seems like the work of some outside source. The resulting elation is something to sing about.
It is LIFE itself that is the source of this sacred power, our own LIFE, not the pseudo energizers like drugs, alcohol and other gross distractions, or the more refined substitutes that seem to enhance the ego and provide a limited and short-term peace of mind: adulation, exoneration, consolation, justification, explanation … yes even meditation. We can use virtually anything to take the place of activating our own potential for more LIFE. And the reason is that the true activation of LIFE, every time it occurs, reduces the hegemony of the false ego, replacing it little by little with another “self” identified with the totality, with LIFE; it is the false self-protective and self-worshipping ego that thinks it is the authentic definer and authorized protector of the organism’s destiny and place among men. The power of LIFE reshapes the conatus into a new “self.”
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
|My LIFE, you know WE are falsely accused, we’ve been through this before. Help me again.
Respect yourself even if others don’t. (“lies.” substitutes for the energy of LIFE.)
Our reality comes from LIFE. We belong to LIFE. Therefore we can trust LIFE to provide the energy we need to protect ourselves.
If negative thoughts persist, wait them out patiently. They are delusions and will pass.
Trust LIFE. Don’t look for substitutes.
We want LIFE to perform a miracle. But it doesn’t work that way. LIFE is our LIFE. The miracle is our activation of our potential.
Once that sinks in, I feel a confidence and peace of mind like no other.
I feel safe because I know I can trust my LIFE.
Background. Another lament and call for help. This time it seems to be the cry of someone who ministers in the Temple and whom others are trying to get rid of. He is asking Yahweh for help against his enemies so he can gain access to the Temple and worship Yahweh in awe. But it may also be a symbolic reference; true worship at the temple brings to mind the struggles of Samson. Yahweh’s help can be trusted by those who are in the thick of lifelong combat.
Reflection. If Roland Murphy’s background assessment of this psalm is accurate, the literal meaning limits its direct usefulness for us. Taking it metaphorically means we confine our understanding to generic terms — terms that are characteristic of all the psalms of lament and trust. Those whose lives are a constant struggle with the enemies of LIFE, whoever they are and whatever the battle they are waging, will find respite in realizing that they will win because the LIFE that is active in the struggle is theirs, and cannot be destroyed. The point is to make it one’s own.
This psalm quietly introduces an argument that is expressed more loudly in other psalms: that Yahweh needs and wants worship and praise. The hint that the psalmist wants access to the temple (in fact have his career restored) so that he can praise Yahweh, is apparently supposed to convince Yahweh that it’s in his (Yahweh’s), best interest to help him out. Other psalms that pray for healing sickness boldly remind Yahweh that if he lets the psalmist die, there will be one less human out there to praise him “because the dead do not offer sacrifice.”
Applying our customary understanding that LIFE is a shared possession between the source energy and the energized living organism suggests that this argument is meaningless. No such dynamic can exist because LIFE is not outside and other than us. We are not dealing with “an other person” who does things for us. What LIFE does is activate our own creative potential: the power to produce more LIFE.
But what generates the spontaneous instinct to be enraptured in awe and struck dumbfounded with gratitude is not miracles but precisely the existential confluence of LIFE with my life. I am alive with LIFE’s own living energy. I can palpably feel a divine potential bubble up instant by instant as my intelligent life emerges and is sustained uninterruptedly through the “nows” of flowing time by an energy source that resides within me, is me, but at the same time is also everything else. I know very clearly that I am not the source of the life I am living, because I cannot prevent it from disappearing nor give it back to myself once it is gone. Somehow, then, this LIFE that is me, is also not me, preceded me, is beyond me, shaped and sustains me, and will continue to energize other things and other people long after I’m dead and gone. The awe, praise and gratitude are not directed to an outside source of miracles, but rather to the interior source of the only miracle there is: that I am alive with LIFE and carry LIFE’s creative power around with me like the hammer of Thor.
|1 Give ear to my words, O LORD; give heed to my sighing.
2 Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.
5 The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
6 You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house,
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.
9 For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.
10 Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover them with favor as with a shield.
The psalmist presents his case to LIFE at the time of prayer — the morning — and waits quietly.
Somehow “wickedness” equates to boastfulness as well as lying and murder. These are all actions that disregard LIFE and are destructive of the human family.
The psalmist is overwhelmed with LIFE’s steadfast love, sustaining us as human beings. He is drawn to LIFE’s place of residence, in the deep interior of the human organism and its community, to sit awestruck in LIFE’s presence on display in humankind.
But in order to get there, he needs to overcome his enemies who are trying to stop him. They are the demons of the false self who lie and seduce and keep him from his intended purpose.
LIFE itself will unmask them as lies, delusions. They reject LIFE.
But those who embrace LIFE are embraced by LIFE and are safe under its protection. Realizing LIFE is securely ours, we know we will be OK.
We can rest and bask in the presence and secure possession of LIFE.
Background. This is the first of the traditional seven penitential psalms (6, 22, 38, 51, 102, 120, 143); though the allusion to “sin” here is indirect: sickness was presumed to be the result of God’s anger at sin. Thematically it seems to be an amalgam of a petition for healing from sickness and a prayer for rescue from enemies … perhaps the enemies were people who rejoiced at his sickness. The standard inducement to goad Yahweh into saving the psalmist from death is employed: No one can praise you from Sheol. Suddenly there is an unexplained assurance of safety. Perhaps a reaction to an oracle from the priest, but always attributable to Yahweh’s “steadfast love.”
Reflection. From our point of view it would seem appropriate to apply the same metaphorical categories used in previous laments: enemies are the obstacles to my quest for transformation into a compassionate and generous human being. Their triumph at my failures has me truly terrified because I know that, in reality, they arise from my “self,” my own uncontrolled feelings; losing this struggle means I am killing myself, morally speaking. Confronting our “selves” is the hardest challenge of all. The desperate call to Yahweh is understood to be a call to our living “selves” to wake up, shake off the selfish day-dreaming and utilize the moral potential that comes from the residing presence of LIFE before it is too late. But it is not a mere self-excoriation and resolve to do better, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps; we actually are calling on the presence of LIFE to co-activate … to energize its divine potential in ourselves, as if LIFE were other than ourselves.
And indeed, LIFE enlivens all things. All the matter of the universe is nothing but LIFE’s own energy. So LIFE is more than just me, even though it is always me.
“It is always me.” Suddenly, in an instant, I remember that, in fact, LIFE is not something other than myself. I am alive with LIFE and have been all along. It is my secure co-existence with LIFE itself — the LIFE of the universe — that guarantees the co-activation of a moral potential I can absolutely rely on. Victory is assured,
1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
3 My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O LORD — how long?
4 Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror; they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.
|We know better. LIFE neither gets angry nor punishes anyone. We punish ourselves.
Sickness is not a punishment from LIFE, and my selfishness is my own doing. Knowing that is what has me terrified.
I call out to LIFE for help.
LIFE, you are not served by my moral collapse. Why let it happen?
I am desperate, I am getting nowhere.
Wait! Have I been having a nightmare? I wake up and my bad dreams evaporate. LIFE has been here all along. I’m safe.
My struggle to become compassionate and generous is guaranteed to win. LIFE is stronger than my negativity.
Background. A lament of one falsely accused who utilizes a protestation of innocence as his argument with Yahweh. He calls on Yahweh, the ruler of all nations, to actively intervene. He describes Yahweh’s battle tactics: his enemies should take warning. The Psalmist will praise Yahweh for his help.
Reflection. Once again “enemies” can be applied to anything or anyone who undermines the humanization project, individual and collective. LIFE rules. Everything is an evolved emanation of LIFE. We are all made of LIFE’s clay. Stop thinking you can choose sides in this battle. You belong to LIFE and are genetically programmed to generate life. Deny it at your peril. There is nowhere to run.
Throughout, the psalmist stresses the theme of reciprocation: “if I have done what they accuse me of, let me be punished as I deserve.” But the principle is equally applicable to the enemies: “Let them fall into the trap they have dug, let their evil recoil on their own heads.” This motif emphasizes the responsibility of the petitioner, if there was ever any question. The psalmist acknowledges that Yahweh’s help depends on the psalmist’s sincerity and innocence … just as his enemies’ fate depends on their own evil intentions. There is no suggestion that Yahweh will protect the psalmist just because he is an Israelite calling for help, or will punish his enemies whether they deserve it or not. It serves as a reminder that there are no miracles, not even “spiritual” miracles. In calling on LIFE one is calling on oneself.
Personal transformation is not an automatic process guaranteed a successful outcome. LIFE works only with and through its evolved emanations. Transformation is a cooperative, collaborative endeavor at all times. I deserve help in transforming my selfish negative “self” because I myself have labored to transform it with my compassion and generosity. If I have not, then I deserve to be “torn apart.” And likewise, my arrogant ego deserves to be neutralized — to be suffocated — because it tried to suffocate the very LIFE that enlivens my organism.
|1 O LORD my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
2 or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
3 O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,
4 if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause,
5 then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground, and lay my soul in the dust.
6 Rise up, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
7 Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high.
8 The LORD judges the peoples; judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.
9 O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.
10 God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.
12 If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow;
13 he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.
14 See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies.
15 They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made.
16 Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.
17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
LIFE rules over all. Everything and everyone is the offspring of LIFE.
We belong to LIFE, let us submit unconditionally to its demands and be judged strictly and rigorously, by them.
LIFE is not to be trifled with. Get moving.
The consequences for working against LIFE are dire
The enemies of LIFE get to lie in the bed they have made for themselves.
The victory, as always, belongs to LIFE.
Background. A psalm of praise to Yahweh. It is evidently ancient enough to still reflect belief in a multitude of “gods” among whom Yahweh is imagined supreme. It wasn’t until after the return from exile that belief in there being only one God came to be clearly established. The word “Elohim” in verse 5 is a plural word that means “gods,” often translated “angels;” it came to mean “a god” and eventually to be used as a substitute for the sacred name, Yahweh. Here the new RSV makes that choice. “The mouths of babes” in verse 2 may allude to a children’s chorus of some type and is imagined as drowning out the noise of the naysayers.
Reflection. LIFE’s universal presence is truly overwhelming. It sustains all things everywhere. When we see the vast extent of what LIFE has evolved, we are stuck dumb with awe: we realize that we are LIFE’s direct emanations, its highest evolved form so far. We are LIFE in human form. Who are we, puny as we are, to be invested with such an honor, and be given LIFE’s very own power over other creatures — LIFE’s own potential for more LIFE — to protect, preserve and defend them all. We are more like LIFE itself than anything else LIFE has generated. If you want to know what LIFE is like, look at your own potential.
1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The songs of children are louder than the hooting of those who disdain and exploit the generosity of LIFE.
The vastness of the cosmos that LIFE has spawned contrasts with our puny human organisms.
Yet LIFE lives in us more intimately, more intensely, more actively than any other created thing. We are like LIFE itself.
We have been given LIFE’s power to generate more LIFE.
We are the stewards of LIFE.
We wield LIFE’s potential as our own: to protect, preserve and defend all created things.
PSALMS 9 & 10
Background. These two psalms are taken as a unit by Roland Murphy. The first, 9, is a psalm of thanks for the ascendency of the king and the nation. The “gates of daughter Zion” refers to the Temple. The second, 10, is a lament.
Reflection. The same metaphors apply as in earlier royal psalms and laments. The “king” is the champion of LIFE, and we as LIFE’s champions can count on LIFE to collaborate in our efforts to promote justice — to defend and enhance the welfare of all. The “foes,” of course, are our uncontrolled involuted selves, and those of other people, seeking our own gratification and self-aggrandizement. LIFE will turn their energy against them … through mindfulness and other practices designed to bring the unruly “self” under control, we will experience the collaborative energy of LIFE. LIFE rules and our “enemies” will have to accept that.
1 In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains;
2 for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
These verses are a classic description of religious escape. They call into question the validity of a multitude of cultic programs, from the ancient hermits in the desert and their mediaeval monastic legacy, to the all-absorbing parish community which tries to reduce the world to an ethnic enclave. They are all potentially valid tools in our struggle to surrender to LIFE, but if they become ends instead of tools they divert that energy to themselves alone. That is idolatry. They claim to be the totality of the sacred.
Our community is the great circle of the offspring of LIFE, nothing less. It includes not only all of humankind, but the entire biosphere spawned by the earth from which we are directly descended and by which we survive and are sustained.
The excuse for running away, of course, is fear. The escapees know they are called on to counteract injustice, but they are afraid of the perpetrators who are prepared to kill anyone who stands in their way. But the fear is itself the product of another injustice — intimidation — which the psalmist will not tolerate either. Flight is cowardice in the face of a double injustice. We are enjoined by LIFE. There is no excuse.
4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
5 The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence.
6 On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
LIFE resides in the “temple” of our bodies: in the deep interior of all humankind, the just and the unjust. All are the offspring of LIFE; all are under the gaze of their own conscience, and all know injustice when they see it. Those energized by LIFE have the power to confront injustice, even when they find it germinating in their own “selves.”
Those who perpetrate injustice are going against the grain of their own organisms activated by LIFE; their very bodies will react against what they are doing. The loving response of those who promote LIFE will make the misdeeds of the violent feel like coals of fire on their heads, as St Paul said. It can change them. LIFE’s intelligence recoils from the contradictions of injustice. Those who promote justice know they are aligned with LIFE. Those who perpetrate injustice know they are misaligned and suffer because of it; they weep for their betrayal. We trust LIFE’s power to transform.
1 Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own — who is our master?”
“Flattering lips and a double heart,” what a telling phrase. We all know how capable we are of deceiving others (and ourselves) in order to advance our own interests. Often enough, too, we have been the victims of those who have taken advantage of our trust. Secretly, we all hate that. But some social environments seem to be little more than a web of mutual deception and suspicion, which many justify as “normal.” Anything else, they say, is naïve, infantile. Adults say what they need to say to survive and succeed, only children are open, honest and trust others.
5 “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the LORD; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
6 The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
And because they are vulnerable in their honesty and trust, children end up ripped off, despoiled of what belongs to them. Their pain and disillusionment is audible. Those who have surrendered to LIFE’s conscious embrace hear and react to injustice; they will not tolerate it. They will restore justice. It’s not an option. They have to. It’s who they are.
7 You, O LORD, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind.
LIFE residing in those who have surrendered to its embrace is our ultimate hope for protection and safety. We, the agents of LIFE, are all we’ve got to protect ourselves from human selfishness, ours and others’. There is nothing else. There is nothing to prevent “vileness” from taking over because so many people think it’s “normal.”
1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Despondency, sorrow, “soul-pain,” makes me feel like LIFE itself has abandoned me. But the source of that sense of abandonment is quickly identified: that “my enemy is exalted over me.” Thus my sorrow is equated to the “power of my enemies” which Evagrius said are unbridled desires that can never be satisfied. Despondency is the result of unfulfilled desire coupled with the anger that it provokes. The solution is the cessation of craving through the practice of mindfulness.
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But since my enemies are the enemies of LIFE — my own craving, blindness, selfishness, ego-worship, as well as those other people who have similarly surrendered and therefore promote injustice in the human community — it is LIFE itself that I call on to prevent our descent into death … for to fail to align with LIFE as individuals in a community is to die.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
LIFE has always prevailed. I am in awe at the power of LIFE.
1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
Our betrayal of the very LIFE that enlivens us is legendary; it seems to define us. We have turned our back on LIFE when it got in the way of our gratifications. We have acted as if we expected LIFE to serve our ego needs. Our behavior has been abominable. Everyone has done it. Even me!
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?
5 There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.
6 You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.
We have to align with LIFE. When we don’t the community falls apart. The people get chewed up and spit out. Human community depends on justice and truth — the energy of LIFE — or it can’t function. If you try to destroy those who collaborate with LIFE, the energy you need for that purpose will not be there for you. You will have to force it and that should shame and frighten you. LIFE’s energy only generates true community.
7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
Ultimately, LIFE will prevail in the community of humankind.
1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.
If I want to get close to LIFE, I’ll find it with people. LIFE resides in the human community … that means healthy human relationships built on truth and openness. Lies and deception employed in the service of greed and individual self-enhancement are the archenemies of LIFE. LIFE rejects slander, judging others, breaking promises, getting money without earning it, enriching yourself by passing false judgment on the innocent … these things destroy community. Love people and that’s where you will find LIFE.
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
I put my trust in LIFE. There is no other option. I seek out and associate with people who have made the same choice. I avoid those who think they can reject LIFE.
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
So I am content: I only have LIFE — but what more do I need? For LIFE is all there is. I am completely satisfied. I have all I ever wanted. But I practice mindfulness throughout the day to keep my insights clear and my commitments fresh. I stay mindful that LIFE is mine. I need nothing else.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I am so identified with LIFE that I no longer fear death. There is nothing more I want. I’m in heaven right now; I could go on like this forever.
Background comments: A lament. Many of these seems to be prayers archived by the priests for use as petitions for frequently recurring litigations.
Initial reflection: The actualizing metaphors for us are the same as in other laments: the “enemies” are the human blindness, cravings and narcissism that militate against our concurring with LIFE’s agenda of promoting LIFE. They may reside in me or in others. The problem is the same for we are all the offspring of LIFE and we are deservedly divided within ourselves as individuals and as a community between the “self” allowed to form in the wake of a drifting, unguided conatus, and the new “self” that emerges after the years of mindless selfishness are finally cleared away. We call upon LIFE, our LIFE, to become active in this process of transformation, which is needed to pull us back from the brink of Death. We can only count on LIFE to provide this energy when we are sincere … not as a quid pro quo reward, but because LIFE’s energy and our sincerity are one and the same thing.
1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
My sincerity is the absolute condition for LIFE’s collaboration. And my sincerity is evident in my concurrence with LIFE’s agenda. I do not collaborate with those who work against LIFE. That is a necessary element in my commitment that is often overlooked because it is inconvenient. The refusal to be complicit makes demands that are serious and therefore often threatening to a comfortable way of life. It is here that subconscious blindness functions.
6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
8 Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
I can count on LIFE. My prayers are not just idle dreams and wishes. LIFE is real power, and will accomplish real change. LIFE shares its own potential with me. This is marvelous, though not miraculous, and requires my cooperation.
9 from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush.
13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, overthrow them! By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,
14 from mortals — by your hand, O LORD — from mortals whose portion in life is in this world. May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them; may their children have more than enough; may they leave something over to their little ones.
My “enemy,” of course is my selfish self, and that same self in others. I am aware that my selfishness uses the energies generated by LIFE for its own purposes; under the control of the unguided conatus those energies end up going against the grain, swimming against the current of LIFE. Hence the violence. I have to become violent against myself because I am fighting against LIFE and trying to reverse its direction in myself and others. I become pitiless. I have to suppress my natural compassion and tendency to care and cooperate. I talk arrogantly. I have to set myself above LIFE. I become capable of destroying those who stand in my way. I will actually conspire, bringing all my resources to collaborate in the destruction of the agents of LIFE. LIFE’s resistance is the clue: I am taking what is not mine. I stay hidden until the kill. I hide because I know very well that everyone knows I am wrong and would thwart me if they could, so I work in secret.
LIFE! Save me from myself! Work with me. I need to generate an equal and opposite rejection of violence if I am going to neutralize these attitudes and reverse the destructive behavior they engender. This is not some leisured pastime. Together we wield the power of LIFE. It’s an intimate collaboration that returns me to myself. I resist because I know LIFE does not fool around; it will actually change me.
It doesn’t take much to imagine what it would be like if I actually got what my self-centered narcissism desires. My bloated isolated self, disconnected from others would live on in a misery so profound that it would echo everywhere: in an ever widening circle of alienated exploitation and self-defense, beginning with my family and extending beyond the visible horizon. That’s what my foolishness would earn. Metaphorically it is a punishment; literally it is the direct effect of abandoning LIFE.
15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
I want no part of that picture. What I really want is to change my “self” more and more until I actually want what you want, LIFE, and do things the way you do them. It is the image of LIFE that holds me transfixed. It’s that image that I want to mirror.
Background. A Royal psalm. Roland Murphy says there are archaic linguistic elements and Ugaritic allusions in this victory psalm that cause some commentators to actually date it to the time of David. The king sings of his triumphs won for him by Yahweh the war-god who fights alongside him. It is in two parts. The second part begins with verse 32 and describes the details of battle in which Yahweh fought for the king.
Reflection. The king is Yahweh’s chosen agent par excellence. It is an apt metaphor for any agent of LIFE, hence the psalm belongs to all of us. Any psalmist who can visualize his life as a battle that engages the energies of LIFE to overcome the forces of death can identify with this poetry.
Death is directly referenced as “Sheol” which in ancient times was imagined as a pit of deep and turbulent water, LIFE’s antagonist.
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
To call upon LIFE is to engage the most powerful force in the universe. But LIFE has already declared for me. It is mine and I love it. I call on LIFE. Victory over my enemies is assured.
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
I was in deep trouble … death itself was about to pull me down into its waters. I called on LIFE residing in the depths of my body. It is really there, and it responded.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice.
14 And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
LIFE responded with an energy that I’ve never seen before. I could feel LIFE’s power surging in my body. I could do anything, and I knew I would win, there was no question. The signs were obvious: an invincible self-confidence, an unwavering determination, a clarity of focus, a firm sense of goal, an unconfused identification of what was right and wrong, a decisive insight about the means that were required, and a willingness to endure whatever it entailed. Everything worked together and the forces that assailed me were shattered. LIFE took over, and everything that was not LIFE evaporated before me.
16 He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
But it was LIFE activated in me, not me that did it. I am not now nor was I ever capable of such power by myself. It is LIFE that won that victory in me. Why has LIFE chosen to reside in my body and fight alongside me against our common enemies? LIFE has given itself to me. Why?
20 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
24 Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
I have embraced LIFE. I have chosen LIFE from among all the options open to me. LIFE itself was all I ever wanted. I made many mistakes, and there was a time I turned my back on it, but not for long. And since that time I have never said no to LIFE and that is my commitment forever. LIFE has never refused my sincere call for collaboration when it was clear that I was ready to carry my share of the burden and take whatever would come.
25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
26 with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
27 For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
We are connected at the hip, LIFE and I. We are not two things but one. When I stay mindful, when blindness and cravings are quelled and the conatus directs its fierce energy to promoting LIFE, our collaboration is seamless. But LIFE cannot become active when the “self” denies LIFE its generative priority. If the self insists it is only itself, and that it must create itself in the maelstrom of nothingness … and if it insists that it must employ all its time and energy to nailing down and securing what random gratifications may come its way, LIFE’s circuits jam. It is no longer generously engaged in creating more LIFE. Its power becomes involuted and turned against itself. I am not here to establish myself. I am here to do what LIFE does: to give myself away.
28 It is you who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God — his way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God except the LORD? And who is a rock besides our God? —
LIFE is light. LIFE lights the path to follow. It is power, not just raw potential but a directional force already activated toward more LIFE that when allowed to engage is unstoppable. I can trust myself to its energies which can seem to go against my own interests. But that’s because I don’t understand. I have been brought here by LIFE to expand LIFE, and I am safe in its hands. LIFE, after all, is all there is. Where else can I go.
32 the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.
33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great.
36 You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.
LIFE made me and will remake me in its image. I can trust LIFE to sustain my power and autonomy.
37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.
38 I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.
39 For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them.
42 I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
I was drowning in selfish habits and attitudes. I had been coddling myself. I saw clearly what I needed to do. LIFE helped me stop the foolishness and I did it. I was not gentle with myself, I was not wavering, I didn’t mince my words or my steps. I eradicated that stubborn holdover thoroughly, once and for all, for LIFE’s power was with me, not with selfishness. That false “self” had no recourse to LIFE’s energies for LIFE cannot work against itself.
43 You delivered me from strife with the peoples; you made me head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.
44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me.
45 Foreigners lost heart, and came trembling out of their strongholds.
46 The LORD lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation,
47 the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me;
48 who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent.
LIFE’s victory was complete. Once the word got out about what LIFE had done in me, my other problems just dissolved at a glance. Once it was clearly understood that there would be no more nonsense; all opposition melted away. LIFE is powerful and fully restored me to control over my life.
49 For this I will extol you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.
50 Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.
LIFE is triumphant. If LIFE did this for me, it can do it for anyone who embraces it. LIFE is reliable, it can be trusted. Becoming an agent of LIFE is a guarantee of success.
Reflection: This psalm is a clear declaration that the awesome manifestations of LIFE in nature (vv. 1-6) and the “law” that allows humankind to put LIFE on display in its daily living (vv. 7-15) are one and the same phenomenon. Humankind, by binding itself to the “law” is as much a revelation of LIFE as the Natural Order itself. The Hebrews did not distinguish the torah as revealed textually to Moses from the “law of the heavens,” a concept similar to the Tao in China, the Brahma of the Hindus and the Dharma of the Buddhists. This poem declares humankind’s moral (social, political) life to be in seamless unity with the Natural Order of the material world.
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
The behavior of the natural world, without one word being spoken, is an awesome display of the power and perfection of LIFE. The sun is an especially riveting symbol of this. Like LIFE itself, its light and heat penetrate everywhere.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Instead of “warned,” the Jerusalem Bible translates “your servant is formed by them.” That seems more in keeping with the sentiments of the previous four verses that this “law” is not a matter of onerous obligation or quid pro quo reward and punishment, but rather something delicious, delightful, desirable. The “reward,” then, is a life of deep joy — the direct effect of human concurrence with the natural order, the theme of the whole psalm.
12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
The Jerusalem Bible translates “the insolent” as “pride” citing psalm 119 which constantly contrasts obedience with “pride.” Others likewise direct it inward by translating it as “presumption.” Directing it outward as the NRSV does would seem to be inconsistent with the innocence and blamelessness highlighted in the second part of the verse.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
If there were ever any question about whether “law” should be taken literally (legally) or metaphorically (as a symbol of commitment to LIFE) this verse should put it to rest. The “meditation of my heart” can hardly be considered a legal, moral category. Our “meditation” ought to be part of the activation of LIFE that we see going on throughout the Natural Order.
Background. A royal psalm. The “anointed” is the king. This psalm is a petition for victory in battle. It appears to have been sung to accompany an animal sacrifice occurring at the same time.
Reflection. The “anointed” is the agent of LIFE, the bearer of its power and purpose. All who use this psalm may see themselves in the place of the king as agents of LIFE. “Enemies” are the enemies of LIFE, both within myself and within others. LIFE’s potential is real power. We have chosen LIFE. Others have chosen something else to rely on, and they will be disappointed.
1 The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices.
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.
7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.
9 Give victory to the king, O LORD; answer us when we call.
Background. Another royal psalm. Apparently a companion to the previous psalm. It seems to represent the successful answer to the earlier petition for success in battle.
Reflection. The psalmist uses the words of the king because, like the king, s/he is the agent of LIFE and bearer if its power and purpose. In this case there is joy at the success of LIFE’s ventures which necessarily involve the conquest of LIFE’s enemies, i.e., human selfishness and arrogance.
1 In your strength the king rejoices, O LORD, and in your help how greatly he exults!
2 You have given him his heart’s desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips.
3 For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold on his head.
4 He asked you for life; you gave it to him — length of days forever and ever.
5 His glory is great through your help; splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
6 You bestow on him blessings forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
The gladness that comes in the wake of LIFE’s victory is the long and joyous life of its dedicated agents. But the depth of the joy does not only come from the peace and prosperity of a life well lived, but from the unique satisfaction of knowing that one is completely identified with LIFE and its purposes … so that even should troubles arise the psalmist will not be moved.
8 Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 You will make them like a fiery furnace when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their offspring from the earth, and their children from among humankind.
11 If they plan evil against you, if they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight; you will aim at their faces with your bows.
LIFE is implacable. It will completely obliterate its enemies, pulling them out from the nooks and crannies where they are hiding. There is no escape. The psalmist dedicated to LIFE will “search and destroy” every selfish, negative, pusillanimous, LIFE denying force and impulse in its organism.
13 Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.
LIFE is the power we worship.
Background. Roland Murphy ( Jerome Biblical Commentary ) says the subject of this well-known lament is not a king but an individual Israelite. The suffering cited seems to be both physical and from the attacks of enemies.
Reflection. The beginning of this psalm in Aramaic, “eli, eli, lama sabachthani” is put into the mouth of Jesus on the cross (Mt 27:46) indicating that the psalm was probably already part of an identified pool of messianic expectations to which Jews had recourse at the time of Jesus. It has been associated with Jesus’ crucifixion for the entire history of Christianity so it’s almost impossible to pray it without evoking that imagery.
But the psalm obviously antedated Jesus’ ordeal. It was composed by a poet who either suffered through similar torments himself or was intimately empathetic with others who had. The imagery of attack is stark, violent and the attackers brutal, cynical and merciless. The pleading is desperate and abandoned. The psalmist’s cry for help, as usual, cites the past miraculous intervention of Yahweh on behalf of the Israelites. This can only be taken metaphorically, for none of it happened as written and, at any rate, cannot be seriously adduced. LIFE does not perform miracles. What LIFE provides is the marvel of having shared itself with us all.
So trust remains. As our ancestors trusted, so do we continue to trust. We trust LIFE that once we have been made participants in its energy we will always be part of it. We are LIFE’s progeny — its offspring. We are bound to LIFE by our genetic inheritance; we cannot help ourselves: we are living matter and we have to live as matter. This is an attachment that is not subject to ascetical transcendence. It is embedded in our blood and bones; it is not ours to dismiss or discard. The psalmist’s anguish makes no effort to repress or mitigate that reality.
But we know that LIFE will not abandon us. We can rely on LIFE because we share its obsessions: it cannot stop living; we know that from the evidence of our own organism. How that will spell itself out in the future as LIFE finds one way after another to survive through evolution driven by reproduction, we cannot predict. But just as our birth as humans revealed to us that, as matter, we have been part of the pool of matter’s living energy since the beginning of time, so too we have learned that there seems to be no way that will ever end: for the pool of matter’s energy is neither created nor destroyed, just recycled.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
The psalmist uses his very disillusionment about “God’s” concern for him, to “shame” God into responding. “See what you have made me go through.” But he immediately realizes what he has been calling “God” is LIFE itself, and assumes a posture of grateful worship.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
Trust is the key. There is only trust. It’s all we’ve got. It was all Jesus had, that’s why it was appropriate for Matthew to put this psalm in his mouth. There are no miracles and the very plight of the psalmist is already proof of that. Why pray for something to be reversed that, if Yahweh had the power, would never have occurred to begin with? We trust. The point of prayer is not miracles, it’s to dispose ourselves to trust. And the basis of our trust is not some past miracle, but the marvel of material LIFE and this universe of living matter which we experience consciously in each present moment as it arrives.
6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me; they make faces at me, they shake their heads;
8 “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver — let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
The psalmist’s enemies taunt him with LIFE’s inaction on his behalf, the implication being that LIFE has abandoned him. Other translations emphasis the “if” factor. It is the argument of the taunters of Jesus: “if” you speak for Yahweh as you claim, and “if” he loves you, let him take you down from the cross. What they are saying, of course, is that the psalmist’s very suffering justifies their cruelty and disregard for LIFE’s rule of justice. It’s an argument that cannot be refuted by facts and logic. It is only overcome by an interpersonal insight: LIFE is power and can be trusted. I know LIFE interiorly, beyond facts and logic. Absence of miracles is no proof of the absence of LIFE, for LIFE does not perform miracles. LIFE shared is the marvel that engenders trust.
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Their argument has no merit, for I have another source of information: me. LIFE has been with me from the start and never left me. LIFE has taken up residence in me. LIFE, come alive in me!
12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
Enemies are trying to destroy my integrity as human individual and the community as a society of justice. These forces hostile to LIFE, forces of the selfish “self,” are much stronger than anything I have seen before. They have immobilized me. I am terrified. I can’t speak. I can’t move. I can’t defend myself. I feel like I’m already dead. These enemies of LIFE are already dividing up the spoils from my certain defeat.
19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
My LIFE, you are alive in me. I can feel your power in my body in each present moment. This is not my power, it’s yours, stronger than the forces arrayed against LIFE. I am here … and I am alive now! This is LIFE as me. What more can I ask? What more do I need? I can do what LIFE does for LIFE’s power lives in me with my face. I am part of that and cannot ever be excluded.
LIFE uses death itself to promote and expand LIFE. Victory is assured. It makes me want to shout for joy and invite everyone to join me.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Together with the universal family of humankind my song of gratitude to LIFE is endless. LIFE dominates the universe. It rules both the powerful conquerors and the lowly ones they conquer. In the end, all people will shout with gratitude and joy for the gifts of LIFE. What marvels LIFE will evolve in the future are still unknown. But we can trust … because LIFE is in charge.
Background. Perhaps the most famous psalm of all, certainly the most cited. The theme is trust and thanksgiving. Yahweh is imagined first as a shepherd, a constant metaphor for kings in ancient Mesopotamia, and then as the host at a banquet.
Reflection. This psalm points to the ultimate basis for internal peace and great joy. Matter’s LIFE itself directs our destiny through the innate guidance systems of ontogeny and evolution, and the energies of the conatus and intelligent synteresis embedded in our living matter. We have no other way of knowing how we should live. Our bodies direct us. There is no “revelation” apart from LIFE to which we have privileged access in the interior depths of our own conscious organism.
With such a divine guide intimately united to our own selves, all of us, we have nothing to fear. We are not isolated and defenseless before our enemies. We do not need parents because we are no longer children. But what we have is what LIFE has made us — fearless, adult, intelligent and collaborative — repositories and agents of LIFE. LIFE guides us in us and as us. It is we — the mirrors and agents of LIFE — that do this in collaboration with LIFE. We trust what LIFE can do in us.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.
LIFE has provided me with itself. I am wealthy beyond measure. I am content wherever I am and whatever I have. Fears and worries evaporate. LIFE’s project determines what I do. Dangers and sufferings will not derail me. I am fearless; I carry the power of LIFE. I am LIFE with this face.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
This is LIFE’s house, not mine. I was invited here and treated royally. LIFE opened its home to me. I have been given a gift beyond measure: LIFE itself, as if it were my own. I am overwhelmed. From cradle to grave my journey is assured. I am where I belong.
Background. A processional psalm of entrance to sacred precincts. It uses some of the terminology of enthronement ceremonies. It seems it is the king and his battle companion, Yahweh the warrior, who seek entrance to the temple.
The “seas” are ancient chaos, the enemy of creative order. Yahweh’s conquest of the waters created the world and established his universal power. Questions and instructive answers (torahs) occur three times. In the first, we are taught that entrance is restricted to those who do right, do not worship idols and who are just and honest with others. To enter means to seek Yahweh’s face, therefore Yahweh’s power is equated to moral uprightness.
The last two torahs emphatically acclaim Yahweh’s power and protection. The gates of the temple open to this overwhelming power: Yahweh, mighty as an army in battle array.
Reflection. Matter’s LIFE evolved us all, the earth and everything that has emerged from its rich pool of elements. LIFE conquered obstacles beyond anything we can imagine and here we are, humankind, the mirror and agents of LIFE. We recognize LIFE as our creator and we want to embrace it in itself. Where can we find it? Where does it live?
It is in us. We are LIFE; LIFE’s power and character are on display in our moral lives: if we don’t glut ourselves with gross gratifications; if we don’t worship ourselves and take ourselves as our own source of life and energy; and if we don’t cheat or exploit others. This is the face of LIFE — our just and moral behavior. The face of LIFE is our face … doing what’s right.
If LIFE resides in a temple, then we are the temple. Open the doors to this temple and let more LIFE in to reign and to rule … to transform us into itself until we lose ourselves in its self-emptying generosity. What is this LIFE that we want to enter and take over our life? It is an overwhelming power, like an army deployed for combat, the power to give LIFE.
1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
LIFE’s creative power is on display in evolution. Evolution is a totally non-violent process that creates by finding ways to harmonize with what already exists and utilize the resources made freely available. It never coerces. It never forces anything. And yet it has totally transformed the face of the earth. What used to be an inert pool of elements is now teeming with life that has filled every nook and cranny on the planet. LIFE now rules the earth.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
We see LIFE at work in evolutionary creation, but can we ever touch it where it resides — directly, personally, face to face? Yes we can. We touch LIFE directly and personally in ourselves … LIFE resides in us. When we live as LIFE, with clean hands and pure heart, obedient to LIFE alone and not to a false “self,” and honest and just with the people around us, LIFE lives in us. The face of LIFE is our face. When you find LIFE you will find yourself.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.
Open the rusty, creaking doors of your closed involuted “temple” to LIFE. Open to light and fresh air. Let LIFE in, to rule, to display its awesome power, to vanquish the enemies that have erected a dead, false and rotting “self” in the place of LIFE. There is no self but LIFE alone, for we are LIFE. Open up to LIFE, LIFE is what we’re after. LIFE is like a mighty army set in battle array.
Background. A lament. In Hebrew, alphabetical. V. 22 is an addition beyond the alphabet and changes the subject of the plea from an individual to the nation. Wisdom content, “teaching the right path,” is evident in more than one place.
Reflection. The psalmist, conscious of his failures, recommits himself to serve LIFE, and the sign of his commitment is his plea to Yahweh to teach him the right path. This “wisdom” instruction is similar to what is found in the Book of Proverbs. The prerequisite disposition, of course is humility: the willingness to be instructed in wisdom which includes obedience; for us that wisdom is LIFE’s creative moral energy mirrored in humankind’s commitment to justice, generosity, love and compassion. It is the identification with LIFE, manifest in remorse for past failures and willingness to surrender to LIFE’s creative project, that is the guarantee of security. “Waiting for Yahweh” means trusting that LIFE’s project is the true guarantee of security. And that trust is put on open display in a robust justice, generosity and compassion. The “enemies” are one’s own selfish disregard for LIFE. The “enemies” are hostile to this whole effort, so the mindfulness necessary to quiet their clamor and redirect their energies becomes integral to the process. It’s our quiet mindfulness in the present moment that is the vehicle for the “instruction” coming from LIFE.
1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
I am committed to serving LIFE’s project. I am not here to do my own will, for I am I not the source of LIFE. All too often I listened to my “enemies,” those inner voices that counsel me to take care of myself, to project, enhance and aggrandize myself … that LIFE cannot be trusted to fulfill the demands of the conatus. Now I know better. I don’t ever want to doubt LIFE again.
4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the LORD? He will teach them the way that they should choose.
I need to learn from LIFE how I should live. I am all too conscious of my failure to trust LIFE. LIFE’s project does not aggrandize the false self, and I often chose selfishly to serve my self and not wait for LIFE. But LIFE teaches me that selfishness doesn’t work. The joyless isolation that results from abandoning LIFE’s project, like a gifted teacher, opens my eyes to the right path. Pain makes one docile. In a state of present mindfulness LIFE’s quiet instructions can be heard.
13 They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
Once I began to embrace LIFE and its ways, the second and irrefutable lesson took place: the joy of human community. I finally understood what I was meant to be, and how I should live. I knew where I belonged. I knew I was bound to LIFE. LIFE was my true self.
15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
I have to trust LIFE but I am afraid. My betrayals haunt me. I know I am capable of abandoning LIFE; I have done it before and I can do it again. These voices refuse to acknowledge LIFE to be my true self: they know it means the demise of the false self and they are violent in the effort to keep it alive. But I know there is no “self” other than LIFE. I have no recourse but to trust LIFE, the very LIFE I have embraced and which I am — my real self. LIFE is my power — exactly that power that overcomes the self. LIFE, my LIFE, I trust you.
The well-being of the whole community depends on it.
Background. Another individual lament by someone unjustly accused.
Reflection. The same metaphors apply here as in previous laments. The psalmist is ready to distance himself from all those who oppose LIFE. This can be threatening, especially if those people control one’s livelihood.
1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
I am committed to LIFE.
4 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
5 I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,
I refuse to be complicit in the undermining of LIFE. I will not cooperate in negating LIFE under the pretext of “earning a living.” LIFE takes precedence over everything, even my position in society or my level of remuneration.
That earning means owning is one of the great fictions that drives human activity. Work is for survival, it owns nothing. Earning pretends to create the “self” and to own LIFE. It’s a fantasy we refuse to let go of.
7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.
LIFE, I am the house where you dwell. I have to begin by loving myself as the mirror and agent of LIFE. With Whitman “I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself … For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Matter’s evolving LIFE is the same for all of us. Our whole human family is the house where LIFE dwells.
9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
10 those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.
Violence, lies, treachery, disdain, exclusion, in the service of some individual’s or tribe’s self-advancement — this is what destroys the human family. I take my stand with the universal family of LIFE, humankind, not with myself or my tribe. There is no self. There are no tribes. And there are no tribal gods. There are no identities besides LIFE. The whole human family, all of LIFE’s “selves,” is where LIFE resides.
Background. Another individual lament.
Reflection. The psalmist, aware of his own selfish inclinations, seeks the face of LIFE itself as if it were outside of himself, a source of integrity and commitment that transcends his own failures. But in his search he discovers that LIFE has his face; he is astonished and ultimately joyful as he learns to sit in the quiet presence of LIFE, which has not abandoned him despite his betrayals.
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh — my adversaries and foes — they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
LIFE is my protection and my defense. My enemies seek to undermine LIFE. They are terrifying because they come from within. They arise from myself and others who think we have to sustain ourselves by our own acquisitions and ascendency over others. But I am not afraid. LIFE working in my own mindfulness will ultimately overcome my grasping self … and those of others … no matter how fiercely these “enemies” assail us.
4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
I not only have LIFE, I am LIFE. Being myself in this body, I am where I belong, I have all I need. I sit in the quiet presence of this astonishing reality. I have nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to get. LIFE is my own. My LIFE, I love you!
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
This presence of LIFE in me, as me, is the source of my protection and security. As LIFE takes over my self more and more, I have less and less to fear from the false self that I let grow like a cancer all those years. My quiet astonishment turns into joy. How can I keep from singing?
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
I seek the face of LIFE itself as if it were other than mine, I can’t help it. It’s dumbfounding to think that I myself am LIFE, I have done so little to make it a reality in my attitudes and behavior. I get angry at myself for this and I want to abandon the project as quixotic. But that’s the old, false, self-idolizing self talking, cleverly putting even the struggle for transformation at the service of the ego. But even when I have turned my back on LIFE or treacherously used LIFE to enhance myself, it has never abandoned me. LIFE is stronger than my betrayals, my worst enemies. Even if my parents abandoned me, I still have LIFE.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
I sit like a beggar at the feet of LIFE. I am LIFE but I can betray it in order to give life to an imaginary self that doesn’t exist. Imaginary or not, that false self is fiercely tenacious and is quite capable of a suicidal attempt at becoming a god. But I trust LIFE. There are no gods. It was all a figment of the imagination, especially the fiction that by working hard and being clever I could make myself a god and live as my “self” forever. It was just another lie in the service of the ego. I trust LIFE. As my self recedes LIFE comes forward. Whatever LIFE has in store for me is what I want. I will not cave in to that feeling of isolation. Only an individual “self” could be isolated. But there is no such “self.” … I AM LIFE.
Background. An individual lament, probably prayed by a priest in the temple for someone sick or being sued. The “anointed” in v. 8 is not a king, but refers to the all people of Israel and therefore to the supplicant.
Reflection. The community dimension is highlighted in this psalm. Try as you might, you cannot avoid being like the people you travel with. If your whole society somehow has come to the collective conclusion that deception, competition and destruction of the “losers” by those on the path to “the top” is the meaning of life and the measure of your humanity, you are in deep trouble indeed. Your only hope is to somehow get away from them. The psalmist knows that such separation — physically or psychologically — is a sine qua non condition for commitment to LIFE, and he doesn’t flinch. He knows that LIFE itself is in the balance. To continue on that false path is to court disaster — the pit of destruction — for yourself and the community, and he wants no part of it.
1 To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
2 Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who are workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors, while mischief is in their hearts.
4 Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD, or the work of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more.
To live without generosity and compassion, to be a “worker of evil,” to be charming but to harbor disdain, plan violence and be ready to abandon the “losers,” is to court disaster. And a sure sign of disaster is that the cycles of reflection, remorse and renewal no longer occur. Mindfulness has ceased and the ego rolls on mercilessly and painlessly … oblivious to the pain of others.
6 Blessed be the LORD, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.
We are the community of the agents and mirrors of LIFE. We were born for this, our organisms are designed for this. We are LIFE in human form. It’s not what everyone says we should want but rather what LIFE wants. We are LIFE’s anointed. It’s time we allowed it to guide our desires and our aspirations.
Background. Roland Murphy in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (JBC), OT, p. 580, says this psalm is “a hymn with many Ugaritic echoes.” (Ugaritic is an extinct Northwest Semitic language. It is known mostly in the form of writings found in the ruined city of Ugarit — modern Ras Shamra, Syria. It has been used by scholars of the Hebrew Bible to clarify Biblical Hebrew texts and has revealed ways in which the cultures of ancient Israel and Judah found parallels in the neighboring cultures.) Murphy says of the psalm: “the Canaanite flavor is undeniable. The ‘staircase’ parallelism is typical of Ugaritic verse (abc — a’b’d’), and several expressions can be duplicated from Ugaritic poetry. Hence many scholars think it is an adaptation of an ancient Canaanite Baal hymn.” Sirion in v.6 is the Phoenician name for Mt. Hermon. The “Kadesh” in v. 8 is a “wilderness” in the area of Lebanon, mentioned in the Keret epic, an Ugaritic poem. The “sons of God” in v. 1 are members of the heavenly court, often “other gods” whom Yahweh was believed to rule.
Reflection. This hymn is ancient and has been through much recycling. The first, apparently, was made by the Hebrews, adapting Canaanite religious poetry from Baal to their own warrior-god Yahweh. The naïve identification of thunder and lightning as manifestations of Yahweh’s presence and power are clear indication of its early origins.
As with all psalms, it requires repeating that our prayer life has traditionally been built on these images from ancient nature religions and erroneous characterizations of “God” as a humanoid “person” who rules a “heavenly kingdom” that is full of other spirits like himself. At best these may be taken as metaphors from living matter’s evolving manifestations, assuming Yahweh and “God” to be the very dynamism of material energy — what I am calling LIFE. With some psalms, one’s prayer energy may have to be entirely taken up in resisting and rejecting the imagery presented. This should not be considered a waste of time, however. For part of the work of prayer is to get our minds into conformity with the reality of “God’s” sacred work, what our tradition has called “creation.” This alignment with the truth of our material universe primarily impacts our appreciation of what we ourselves are — biological organisms made entirely and exclusively of matter — and therefore what our “God” has to be: the Source of matter’s living energy. If the ancients were driven to rapture at the sound of thunder, we are no less astonished that we ourselves are constructed of the very “stuff that constitutes ‘God’ ” that has evolved humankind using nothing but its own material resources and the instinct to survive, over eons of geologic time.
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The “voice” we hear clear if not loud is the still small voice of our LIFE co-present in our organisms, a shared divinity that out tradition has failed to emphasize sufficiently. The voice of LIFE thunders its power in our blood and in our bones. It is not only our conscience. It is every urge and instinct, including self-defense, that roils in our flesh. They are no less divine for needing direction and control.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
LIFE is power. We activate divine potential when our lives are dedicated to justice, peace, generosity and compassion. This is real power: LIFE changes things … radically. It breaks down intractable selfishness and the cravings that feed them. It overturns even major social institutions of moral blindness — conscienceless armies and law-protected systems of injustice — that we have erected to justify the slaveries that our society functions on. We are astonished when we see what LIFE can do: it can renew the face of the earth! Who would have thought that something as quiet, common and ordinary as LIFE had such power?
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
LIFE rules. There is no alternative to LIFE’s ways. It is LIFE that creates and will increase our power — and LIFE’s power produces peace.
Background. A thanksgiving song of an individual associated with the dedication of the temple recorded in 164 bce, according to Murphy. Sheol, imagined as a pit from which the psalmist was “drawn up,” is a place where the psalmist believes Yahweh does not dwell. Allowing the psalmist to die would cut him off from Yahweh, it would make any future praise impossible, and would give proof to Yahweh’s detractors that he has no power, or, if he does, cannot be trusted. But Yahweh’s action confirmed his faithfulness; the psalmist was saved from death.
Reflection. Once again, the first element in recovering this psalm for prayer in our idiom is to reject the literal meaning of the sentiment. We cannot call out to LIFE as to another because there is no separation between LIFE, the source of our human energy, and ourselves; we are one and the same thing, made of the same material energy. When we call on LIFE we are not calling on someone or some force outside of ourselves.
Saying that, however, is not meant in any way to deny the nature of the relationship of LIFE to life. There is a structured elaboration of LIFE generated by evolution that results in the autonomous existence and activity of new living organisms that through reproduction become species. This revolutionary emerging individuation of entities is what creates the paradoxical nature of all things: viz., that they are both themselves and their source and matrix simultaneously. This structure is real. Real autonomous specified individuals evolve from matter’s originally amorphous plasma of homogeneous energy, but the emergent entities always remain exclusively composed of that universal material energy. The question of how metaphysical individuation emerges from this process is as much a mystery as it is an undeniable fact. But our recognition of the intimate grafting (a metaphor) of our organismic life into the immortal LIFE that appears to characterize material energy at the constituent level is not affected by our ignorance. A fact does not depend on science’s explanation to be acknowledged as a fact.
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
LIFE has kept me from self-destruction. I was all but dead, morally, spiritually, emotionally, but LIFE did not let go, and I am revivified.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
I am grateful to LIFE for its continued sharing of its energy with me. LIFE can be trusted. Things may look bleak at any given point in time, but LIFE is always there and where there is LIFE there is joy.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
I thought I was invulnerable. I was on top of the world; then everything went wrong.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
I was coming apart at the seams. I was sure I was going to die. What could I do but call on my LIFE’s strength to respond and find a way out — to protect, heal and save me. LIFE has its ways, and they are all beyond my rational control. I had to wait for my organismic LIFE to do what it does.
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
And it did. LIFE responded. Yes, I was ready to die, but LIFE found a way to dodge this bullet. Even though I was prepared for the worst and would have embraced whatever happened with joy and love, this dramatic reprieve has me ecstatic.
Background. Murphy says “A thanksgiving song by one who has been delivered from his afflictions,” (JBC, OT 581), although the psalm clearly begins with a call for help. Jesus’ “last word” on the cross according to Luke 23:46 “Father into your hands I commend my spirit,” is taken from v. 5 of this psalm.
Reflection. This psalm is full of the same sentiments as found throughout the psalter: plea for help from enemies, poetic description of the intensity of the plight the psalmist finds himself in, confidence in Yahweh’s protection, gratitude for help and commitment to fidelity.
1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.
3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
LIFE, you are the energy of my life. Energize my life with yours.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD.
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities,
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.
I am in your care alone. I’ve nowhere else to go. My “spirit” (i.e., my life) is in your hands.
9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many — terror all around! — as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
My situation is truly dire. I am afraid my own strength is not enough. I have no help from other people, they have all abandoned me as if I were already dead.
14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
17 Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt.
19 O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone!
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues.
But I trust in LIFE. With LIFE’s strength I will conquer and destroy my enemies.
21 Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege.
22 I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.
23 Love the LORD, all you his saints. The LORD preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.
LIFE came through again as usual. Learn from my experience: you can trust LIFE.
Background. The second of the traditional seven penitential psalms, Murphy (JBC) emphasizes that the first two verses “are not to be read in the light of the theology of the scholastics and the reformers; they tell us nothing about the intrinsic nature of justification.” The psalm also contains “lessons” in the style of the OT wisdom literature. Its characterization of Yahweh is highly anthropomorphic.
Reflection. The awareness of having failed LIFE through blindness caused by selfishness is an inevitable by-product of enlightenment. The sense of “sin” only affects those who have begun their transformation to serve LIFE, and so it must be taken as a sign of spiritual growth. Confession is a proclamation of joy at “seeing” one’s betrayals for what they are, and it becomes an encouragement — a “lesson” — to others to serve LIFE fearlessly.
The selfish betrayal of LIFE does not only take the form of gross gratification and ego pandering, it also comes from the unwillingness to defend oneself, to protect one’s rights, dignity and integrity, usually out of cowardice: the fear of confronting authority or having to suffer the social opprobrium self-defense entails. The need to be socially accepted — to do what everybody else is doing and enjoy respectability and economic security — can be as much a betrayal of LIFE as any conventional “sin.” Often justified as “the need to earn a living” and “to take care of one’s family,” the suppression of outrage at injustice is one of the betrayals that affects the greatest number of people.
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
The suppression of the internal awareness of having betrayed LIFE generates its own anguish. It requires a chain suppression that becomes intolerable to someone who would pray this psalm. Acknowledgement is also a proclamation of the truth, and is accompanied by joy. The feeling it gives me is just like being forgiven a personal affront by the very person I affronted. But it’s a metaphor. LIFE isn’t other than me. Its ultimate source is beyond me but in betraying LIFE I have fundamentally betrayed myself and the very people I claim to be protecting.
6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
So those who are committed to LIFE should never fear acknowledging their betrayals. It will be a source of strength in time of trouble and fear of death. LIFE can be trusted.
8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
The pain is precisely the pain of suppressing the awareness of failure. It will only last as long as the self-deceiving defensiveness lasts. Learn the lesson: trust LIFE. LIFE will never betray you.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Background. Murphy in the JBC says that this psalm cannot be identified with any liturgical function. it praises Yahweh for his control of history as an aspect of his creative power.
Reflection. As far as we can tell, LIFE is not a rational entity and it does not exercise any direct control over human history. But its power, while indirect and non-directive is ultimate and absolute; for to fail to comply with the requirements of LIFE is to die. But it is we humans, with our intelligence, who read the demands of LIFE internally in our own needs and externally in the needs of others for justice, compassion and loving-kindness. We are the mirrors and agents of LIFE. The creative power that intervenes in human history is our moral power, it is a human power which is energized by the living matter of which we are made. We exercise this stewardship of LIFE collectively and as individuals. We can’t help it, it’s what we do; we are made of LIFE itself.
1 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.
2 Praise the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
LIFE generates excitement in those who are committed to LIFE. We are alive with LIFE itself. How can we keep from singing?
4 For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
LIFE’s incredible power is seen throughout the cosmos. LIFE mines the energies of entropy and death to generate an energy all its own that brings new things to LIFE. We are all the products and extensions of this energy. We are the work of LIFE, and what we do is the work of LIFE.
10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
13 The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth —
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.
We humans are the offspring of LIFE; we bear its genetic codes in our blood and bones; we know LIFE from within. We want what LIFE wants; our inheritance impels us.
16 A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.
The power of LIFE is its potential to engender more LIFE. It does no violence; it does not coerce. Coercive power is based on the fear of death, and it controls by killing. The instruments of such power, no matter how destructive, are ultimately impotent before LIFE.
18 Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
We acknowledge that we are LIFE’s family. We trust our human brothers and sisters, LIFE’s mirrors and agents throughout the world, to work with us to promote justice for everyone and achieve peace and harmony for humankind.
Background. Murphy says this is really a “wisdom” poem as the teaching function becomes prominent after v.12. The 22 verses are alphabetic. The “humble,” anawim in v.2 are to be understood as those committed to Yahweh not necessarily poor. The “holy ones,” which usually refers to members of Yahweh’s heavenly court, here means the committed.
Reflection. The rewards and punishments mentioned in this psalm have to do with earthly prosperity and for us, the intense moral emphasis of the wisdom genre conflates easily with our focus on the harmony and peace that result from social justice: justice is the wisdom of LIFE. Hence the “tasting” can be taken literally, for the work of LIFE brings a palpable peace and harmony, and an end to misery and destitution. Our modern perspective is very close to that of the pre-Christian psalmist who saw the direct connection between morality (justice) and social harmony.
1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
We praise LIFE’s power functioning in our moral commitments to bring justice, peace, harmony, joy to the human community.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
The moral power of LIFE is stronger, more effective in creating a paradise out of this earth than any other form of power. Even young lions, the strongest and most successful predator in the wild, cannot compare with the marvels that commitment to LIFE produces. Try it! You’ll see!
11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.
We all want to be happy. Real happiness right here on this planet, with our families and friends and all the people who share this earth with us, is truly possible. It is not a dream. But it can only be achieved by committing to LIFE and its ways. LIFE’s ways demand that we speak the truth always. Seek peace, not passively, but actively: work for justice!
16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
Those who ignore LIFE in order to glut and aggrandize themselves are already considered failures by those who are committed to LIFE. You may have become well known through your selfish ways, but it’s the way LIFE’s committed people remember you that matters.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.
20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not wealthy, or powerful, or well positioned. Even if you are poor, powerless and vulnerable, easy prey to the selfish, LIFE’s power functioning in your thirst for justice, your generosity and compassion, your loving kindness, will prevail.
Background. An individual lament. Apparently one of the pool of stock prayers used for those going to court, contending with accusers.
Reflection. The metaphors are the same as for prior laments. The enemies are the enemies of LIFE to which the psalmist is committed. The psalmist asks for action from LIFE. We know that LIFE’s action is to energize us into moral decisions, and in this way “saves” our creative autonomy as the mirror of LIFE.
1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
2 Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up to help me!
3 Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers; say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
4 Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me.
5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them on.
6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
7 For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.
8 Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it — to their ruin.
9 Then my soul shall rejoice in the LORD, exulting in his deliverance.
10 All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”
My enemies — my own fears, selfish desires, insecurities, cowardice — seem so overwhelming that my instinct is to cry out for help. I want LIFE to save me. Then I realize I am asking my LIFE to save me from myself. What I am asking for is within my power; it is mine to accomplish for it means applying mindfulness to the thoughts passing through my head. Mindful meditation on what I really want to be and to do will drive these unconscious thoughts and unintended cravings into oblivion. This is the work of LIFE’s power. There is nothing to compare with LIFE; it gives me my very self back from the enslavement in which it was caught.
11 Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me about things I do not know.
12 They repay me evil for good; my soul is forlorn.
13 But as for me, when they were sick, I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,
14 as though I grieved for a friend or a brother; I went about as one who laments for a mother, bowed down and in mourning.
15 But at my stumbling they gathered in glee, they gathered together against me; ruffians whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing;
16 they impiously mocked more and more, gnashing at me with their teeth.
17 How long, O LORD, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!
18 Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.
19 Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me, or those who hate me without cause wink the eye.
20 For they do not speak peace, but they conceive deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.
21 They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha, our eyes have seen it.”
22 You have seen, O LORD; do not be silent! O Lord, do not be far from me!
23 Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!
24 Vindicate me, O LORD, my God, according to your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me.
25 Do not let them say to themselves, “Aha, we have our heart’s desire.” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed you up.”
26 Let all those who rejoice at my calamity be put to shame and confusion; let those who exalt themselves against me be clothed with shame and dishonor.
But I’m not the only one inclined to turn my back on LIFE and disregard the urgings of my organism. Others are also the slaves of their unconscious thoughts and unintended motivations. They are still blind to their situation; they mock and despise the decision I have made to commit myself to LIFE. I was once like them, traveled with them, shared their self-centered needs, treated them like we were one family. But when LIFE started to transform my self I could no longer move comfortably among them; they attacked me mercilessly, accusing me of things I never did. I hope LIFE comes alive in them as it did in me, and they come to feel ashamed of their attitudes and behavior. Right now, they do not know what they are doing.
27 Let those who desire my vindication shout for joy and be glad, and say evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant.”
28 Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.
Nothing can compare or compete with the power of LIFE.
Background. Another individual lament.
Reflection. Ignoring the call of LIFE and living only for yourself can take over your life. After a while you no longer feel shame; you think that what you’re doing is “normal” and in no way reprehensible. You become blind to goodness, to others’ needs, to the demands of justice, to the isolation and alienation which our “way of life” engenders and then protects by calling it “normal.”
1 Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts; there is no fear of God before their eyes.
2 For they flatter themselves in their own eyes that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
3 The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit; they have ceased to act wisely and do good.
4 They plot mischief while on their beds; they are set on a way that is not good; they do not reject evil.
Some people are blindly selfish. I’ve been there. You tell yourself “take care of yourself; it’s what everyone does,” no one will blame you for it. It’s no excuse to say you’re just going with the flow. When you accept selfishness as an ideology you lose the ability to see that the flow itself is wrong. You lose your sensitivity to others, your compassion, your ability to surrender to the demands of justice and to the call of love.
5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
But LIFE embedded in our flesh and bones continues trying to break through the crust of our social self, blinded by “what everyone else is doing” and live a truly human life. LIFE would turn this world into a paradise of justice, compassion, generosity and loving-kindness if we would let it replace our false self with what our body urges.
10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
11 Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12 There the evildoers lie prostrate; they are thrust down, unable to rise.
I have made my choice and I have chosen LIFE. The remnants of the false selfish self still call to me even though I have repudiated them. I have rejected them. They are finished, beaten, powerless before LIFE. I never want to give them any chance to come back to life.
Background. A wisdom psalm with a strong emphasis on the traditional doctrine of retribution: the evil will suffer and the good will prosper. The language makes it clear the poet expects reward and punishment directly meted out by a vigilant and punitive Yahweh. Roland Murphy sums up by saying that the psalm “bears witness to Yahweh’s intervention in human life. The poet does not call for faith in a just order but for trust in Yahweh.” (JBC, OT, p.582)
Reflection. The sentiments expressed in this psalm embody the worst features of the false and misleading ancient belief of the nature of “God” as a rational humanoid entity who intervenes in human history, first as a tribal war god conquering other tribes, and then when Israel became the perennial victim of conquest, as a champion of the conquered promoting a morality that protected the weak.
Human moral behavior, moreover, with this imaginary “God,” is reduced to an obligation in obedience, it is not the key to human happiness. Failure to obey involves a punishment personally applied by “God.” This is utterly false. Any use of the words of this psalm for prayer (or any other purpose) must be subjected to the most rigorous decontamination; it is hardly open to salvation by metaphor. These are the sentiments, taken literally, that are responsible for the involuted, self-absorbed conception of moral behavior that leads inevitably to judgmentalism, condemnation of others and a self-righteousness that stands as an impassable road-block to humility, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity. It represents the very reason why the scriptures must be taken as historically conditioned literature and not as ultimate religious truth.
Nevertheless, the poem also contains elements of timeless human wisdom that can be rescued from their obsolete theological matrix. As the distillations of eons of human experience in society they may serve even today as reliable guides to attitudes, intentions and behavior. This example illustrates as well as any other why updating our tradition requires so much intense effort if we are to salvage what is of value in it and prevent it from being fatally detoured to our detriment. The bible and all its many documents cannot be taken literally as religious truth, and to break out of that dungeon requires that we no longer take the bible as “inspired” in any but the most broad poetic sense. It is the religious history of an ancient powerless people who were staggering under the oppressive weight of two rival empires that delighted in taking turns toying with or destroying their country. The Hebrews projected “God” as a powerful superman who would help them in their plight. We cannot allow their political debasement and the fantasies it gave rise to, to determine how we look at our sacred world. For us “God” is our LIFE. LIFE helps us only by being the very energy by which we live. There is no other “help” from something that is not ourselves. We are alive with LIFE. It is LIFE that energizes our autonomy from within! It is our surrender to our moral instincts that will save us.
1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
There’s no need to get upset that there are those who are dedicated to selfishness. LIFE will slip through their fingers, but it will remain powerful in you for you follow LIFE’s path written in our hearts. The world is yours.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
LIFE does not act except in our moral response. LIFE’s ways are vindicated because they produce a just social order, peace and harmony among men and women. Trust LIFE.
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret — it leads only to evil.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
The success of those who accumulate beyond their needs and project their own egos by debasing and exploiting others no matter how long their ascendency lasts, is temporary. Do not lend credence to their false claims by getting angry. Why are you angry? You have lost nothing. They will find themselves, in short order, without LIFE. Their life and legacy will disappear. You won’t even remember they were here.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to kill those who walk uprightly;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
16 Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked.
The false self-aggrandizing self, which undermines LIFE’s true self from within and assaults it from without in the form of the selfishness of others, is our eternal and common enemy. It is ourselves under the lash of the blind conatus seeking to protect and enhance itself in isolation, or having falsely identified survival with the isolated ascendency of the local tribe, destroys human community. LIFE cannot be destroyed, so whatever has taken a position against it, has sealed its own doom. We need to have compassion on their blindness: it is our own. Their time of wealth and power will soon end. Those identified with LIFE, despite their poverty, have the real and abiding abundance.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous.
18 The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance.
20 But the wicked perish, and the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish — like smoke they vanish away.
21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
22 for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
23 Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way;
The sign of our commitment to LIFE’s ways is our generosity and compassion. They are really the same thing. For to share what we have with others also means sharing ourselves and the understanding of what we are all up against: we are all poor perishing creatures. We need one another. And those that understand that and are available to help others in their needs, will taste the sweetness of a true community of justice, mutual support and esteem. There is nothing in this world to compare with it.
24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.
26 They are ever giving liberally and lending, and their children become a blessing.
If you slip back into selfishness, catch yourself. Don’t wallow in it. While you have LIFE, LIFE’s power resides in you. You can always activate it. Start again.
I too am old, but I beg to differ with the poet: I have seen the righteous forsaken and their children begging bread. Don’t be fooled by this poet’s enthusiasm — an attempt to cajole his “God” into action and give courage to the hesitant. There is no “God” of miracles. The divine principle in our lives is the LIFE that resides in our human bodies. We are the marvel that LIFE has evolved. LIFE works in our choices: to be generous and compassionate to one another is the work of LIFE. That’s what makes it a joy to be human.
27 Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever.
28 For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever.
30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip.
32 The wicked watch for the righteous, and seek to kill them.
33 The LORD will not abandon them to their power, or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.
34 Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
35 I have seen the wicked oppressing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
36 Again I passed by, and they were no more; though I sought them, they could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless, and behold the upright, for there is posterity for the peaceable.
38 But transgressors shall be destroyed; the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
40 The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.
For us, it is LIFE’s power in us that will save us all. If we abandon it for some other illusory pursuit of greatness, we will suffer the consequences.
Background. An individual lament. Third of the traditional six penitential psalms. Themes and figures similar to other laments.
Reflection. The psalmist’s assumption that his sufferings are the result of Yahweh’s “anger” and a punishment of some kind must be thoroughly sublimated by metaphor. LIFE doesn’t get angry and punish anyone. Sometimes your suffering is the result of your own foolishness in disregarding basic morality and humility, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable, like accidents or sickness, or injustice, or the by-product of fighting for justice. One of the great disadvantages in insisting on a micro-managed divine providence is exemplified in this psalm: the belief “God” is creating suffering, or consciously allowing it to happen. This undermines gratitude to LIFE; it encourages a vengeful anger toward LIFE and justifies a cynical retreat into gross infantile selfishness. For me that alone is proof enough of its falsity.
1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.
2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
I call on the LIFE that enlivens me. Get mad at yourself when things go wrong only when there’s evidence to convict you. If indeed you are responsible for what happened, admit it, and start again. But your suffering is not in itself evidence that you have done wrong.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.
5 My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness;
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning.
7 For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
I may be suffering because of what I have done … not that LIFE is punishing me but because I left the path of LIFE to pursue my own selfish desires at the expense of others. Let this remorse be the beginning of a new commitment to LIFE.
9 O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes, it also is gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off.
12 Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all day long.
13 But I am like the deaf, I do not hear; like the mute, who cannot speak.
14 Truly, I am like one who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no retort.
My isolation from others is the suffering I brought on myself. People recognize selfishness when they see it and instinctively withdraw. I hear them. They are right. I have nothing to say. It is a lesson that I take to heart. Not only my remorse but the rejection of the community constitute the beginnings of a new commitment to LIFE for me.
15 But it is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips.”
17 For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me.
18 I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
19 Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good.
21 Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me;
22 make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation.
My LIFE, I commit myself to you, my true self. I have betrayed myself but I know my LIFE is strong and faithful. While I live the power of LIFE is mine. May I never forget that I can rely on my self as an agent and mirror of LIFE.
Background. An individual lament.
Reflection. The form of the poet’s argumentation with Yahweh is unique. Reminiscent of the wisdom of Qoheleth, it presents the impermanence and precariousness of human existence but with a twist: the psalmist is trying to lay a guilt-trip on Yahweh. “See what you’ve done,” the poet says, “so how about a few favors.” Once again, this is the completely human, natural and spontaneous reaction to a “theology” that envisions the divine principle in the cosmos as a rational, personal entity, who created and manages the world like a king rules his kingdom. It’s hard to see how this psalm could even be prayed metaphorically, because the argumentation is so diametrically opposed to reality. You can’t talk to your LIFE the way this poet talks to Yahweh. The process of immanentizing “God” as conceived here will not work.
My suggestion is to immerse oneself in the sentiments sympathetically: with compassion for the human condition. Human existence is full of suffering and the realization that we can do nothing to eliminate loss and eventually death sows a terror in our hearts that undermines our courage. If all we have is the very “God” who designed, created and now manages this intolerable situation, our only hope is to shame him into some extraordinary benevolence … we have nowhere else to turn. But we know that is not the way things are. For us LIFE is the divine principle that governs our lives, speculatively and practically. We have nowhere else to turn but to ourselves, the mirrors and agents of LIFE, the place where LIFE has human eyes and ears, a human heart and mind. What we ask is justice, compassion, forgiveness and generosity from one another and for one another, as individuals and communities. As I am consoled to know that other people are there for me, I make myself available to others: I am committed to developing the compassion and generosity in myself necessary to fulfill this responsibility.
1 I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.”
2 I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse,
3 my heart became hot within me. While I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:
I have a bone to pick with whatever is responsible for this mess we call the human condition. But I love LIFE and I will not complain in front of the cynical and nihilists and encourage their negativity. I tried to keep my mouth shut but my anger got the better of me. Finally I let loose:
4 “LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my days a few handbreadths, [width of a palm: a standard of measurement] and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
6 Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather.
Look at our situation! Human life is wall-to-wall suffering. Work as hard and smart as you want and in an instant it’s all for nothing. Everyone lives in a state of quiet desperation.
7 “And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.
8 Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool.
9 I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.
10 Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.
11 “You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath.
12 “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears.
13 Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.”
LIFE spawned all this. If we have LIFE we have it only under these conditions. LIFE is not different from us. We are LIFE at this level of emergence. We are all the mirrors and agents of LIFE itself. No one is alone for we have one another. We are all the mirrors and agents of LIFE. We all have LIFE’s potential for producing more LIFE. Even the widow and the orphan — those that have no family — can count on other people who are the bearers of LIFE. My isolation and terror of abandonment recedes before the sense of justice, compassion, forgiveness and generosity that I know resides in the heart of those who have committed themselves to LIFE. In my case my own selfishness has prevented that development. I commit myself from this moment to transform my behavior, my reactions, feelings and attitudes to become like LIFE itself: compassionate and generous toward others as I want them to be compassionate and generous toward me.
Background. The psalm is in two parts, A is vv. 2-11, B is vv. 12-18. Part B is repeated in Ps 70: 2-6 and is an individual lament. Roland Murphy only treats part A here. A is a thanksgiving psalm of the type that usually accompanies a sacrifice. The emphatic declaration that sacrifice is only a symbol for obedience to Yahweh’s torah (right living) was applied as a prophecy to Christ in the NT Letter to the Hebrews. The “pit” is death, and the past even of having been saved from the pit is apparently the occasion for the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Reflection. Like the psalmist we are grateful for LIFE and it’s unmistakable bearing towards moral goodness. Key to this goodness is worshipping the true “God.” There are false gods out there, and they are known by their moral fruits, of which the psalm singles out “turning to the proud.” “The proud,” in the context of the beautiful expression of humble obedience “here I am,” can be taken literally to mean those who are not committed to becoming the mirrors and agents of LIFE — the torah in the poet’s heart, the dharma, the Tao — by practicing basic morality.
1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
4 Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.
5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
LIFE — the dharma, the Tao, the torah — drew us out of the chaos of swirling clouds of cosmic dust, spewed out into space by a massive star exploding from the collapse of its hydrogen-to-helium conversion engines. LIFE found us in all our parts and particles strewn about like marbles and painstakingly, little by little over eons of geologic time, wove us together driven by its own internal need to live on. We are LIFE in human form. LIFE is what we are, we follow LIFE; there’s nowhere else for us to turn. Who can know the astonishing tale of our arising and keep from singing: look what LIFE has done! What can we do to say “thank you”?
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
My “thank you” is my embrace of the torah, the dharma, the Tao, the way of heaven — basic uncompromising morality that fosters LIFE for the whole community of earth’s progeny: the human family and all its life supports. My “thank you” is my obedience. “Here I am, LIFE, ready to reproduce LIFE. Tell me what to do.”
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
11 Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.
This is our good news: that we are the spawn of LIFE. We are all one family, the offspring of LIFE, not only other people, but species other than human, all of us and the earth itself the mother, the ground, where LIFE put its seed and we emerged in due time. We need to share this with everyone. Everyone should know that they are LIFE, the very offspring of LIFE, bearing its genetic markings, and poised to generate more LIFE.
[These following verses express totally different sentiments. They are exactly reproduced as psalm 70 and will be commented on then following the work and suggestion of Roland Murphy, JBC.]
12 For evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make haste to help me.
14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt.
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.
Background. This psalm ends the “Davidic Collection,” which was comprised of pss.3 to 41, according to Roland Murphy. It is a thanksgiving psalm, focused on desires for vengeance toward enemies, the treachery of a close friend, and Yahweh’s help at a time of sickness. The sickness is identified as the result of sin.
Reflection. Many of the themes and sentiments are familiar. They are plainly obsolete and can only be taken metaphorically. LIFE does not punish anyone. Sickness may be the result of “sins” of overindulgence but never as a personal punishment as from a god offended. These attitudes must be purged entirely. With regard to “enemies,” there may be real literal enemies who hate me, wish me ill etc., but I will have to cope with sifting out reality from paranoid fantasy. And even when the perceptions correspond to reality, vengeance is not an option. Calls for vengeance must always be transposed into desires that enemies “see the light” and transform, first their perceptions, and then their attitudes towards me. LIFE’s energies are focused on more LIFE. That is the only sense in which one can reasonably expect to align with those energies. LIFE is changeless. It will never deviate even the slightest in order to align with my needs — ever.
1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
The poor represent the needs of the community. LIFE is more fully expressed in human community than in any individual no matter how extraordinary. LIFE’s “miracles of healing” will be most prominently on display in the relationships among people.
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
5 My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
6 And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
8 They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
9 Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
When I’m not strong or well, others seem to dismiss my presence as of little account. Are they showing their true colors, or is it my imagination? Even my closest friends seem to abandon me because I am no longer of use to them.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.
These things are of no concern to me. My connection to LIFE sustains me; it challenges others to respect me and examine their own shortcomings. Mindful always. I draw nearer and nearer to LIFE itself; who would have thought that meditation would have such a profound effect.
BOOK II, PSALMS 42 TO 72
PSALM 42 & 43
Background. Pss. 42 and 43 were originally one poem as can be seen from the repeated refrain “Why are you cast down, my soul …?” Ugaritic elements (the “hind”) and the location identified at the base of Mt Hermon, which is considered part of the Golan Heights, about 50 miles north of the Sea of Galilee today on the Lebanon-Syria border roughly halfway between Beirut and Damascus, suggests the poet is in some sort of exile from Jerusalem and Yahweh’s temple where he had been part of liturgical celebrations and for which he longs. Mountain streams cascading from snow-capped Mt Hermon which form the headwaters of the Jordan, evoke the deer’s thirst for water and the poet’s longing to be with Yahweh, his “God,” in Jerusalem where the Jordan is going. His exile is among people who worship other gods, who taunt him about Yahweh’s absence, and his homesickness impels his prayer.
Reflection. A pure lament of longing with no expectation of reward or benefit. Clearly a poem that would have resonated with those exiled in Babylon and longing to return to their homeland and their God. For those of us who understand that Yahweh is a personified metaphor for one’s own LIFE, shared with everything living and pre-living that forms the vast network that sustains our material totality, this psalm can be prayed with an unusual literal abandon and sense of family. The poet’s longing is ours. Our identity with LIFE is difficult for us to believe, because the very conditions of our material survival demand that we think of ourselves as separate entities, defending ourselves from the hostile forces around us and obliged to wrest food and shelter from others. But we know we are LIFE, its offspring, its children, and our happiness consists of becoming more like LIFE itself everyday, in justice, generosity and compassion. Overcoming the false sense of separation from the material cosmos, the divine milieu, in which we live and move and have our being is what we long for. We want to transform our very flesh, the habits and attitudes of our bilogical organism’s algorythms, into acting and reacting as the LIFE we truly are. The longing expressed here says it all: it embodies in one image both the separation and the identity.
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
We long to be revealed for what we are: LIFE, and to be finally one with ourselves. This love we feel as for “another” — what we have called “God” — reflects the deep tension within us: we are both ourselves alone and one with all things. It’s a tension we cannot escape and that will only disappear when our material components, the source of our LIFE, return to the cosmic pool of material energy from which they were originally drawn. When will I see clearly the face of the LIFE that I now perceive so obscurely in the shadows?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Many of us have been on a harrowing journey from the traditions of our people and our youth. Many of us recited lines from his very psalm in Latin when we served as altar boys 70 and 80 years ago. We are only human. We naturally have a deep nostalgia for the unquestioning sense of belonging to a separate world of sacred spirit that characterized our people and our youth at that time. That experience will never be ours again because we now know that as the emergent spawn of our material universe we are very different from what our ancestral religions imagined. But we also know that our sense of belonging is even deeper and more intimate than we imagined in those years. We know that LIFE didn’t create us, it evolved us. That means that we are not so much the products of LIFE as a more developed version of LIFE itself, living matter. We are living matter, LIFE, in human form, and we bear LIFE’s transformative power to expand and intensify LIFE.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help
6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
The sense of separation from the source and wellspring of LIFE has impacted the psalmist; his separation from the Temple in Jerusalem is the symbol of this feeling of alienation. But it is an illusion. The separations and oppositions that appear as permanent entities in an impermanent, evolving universe are illusions. The matter of my organism and the matter all around me is the same. The oxygen that makes possible the metabolic combustion that is my LIFE has been drawn in just seconds ago from the surrounding atmosphere. The enemies of LIFE taunt us: “Where is your LIFE? You have no control, no guarantee. Your fires can burn out at any point .” I trust LIFE, for I am alive with it as my very own. I am carried along in LIFE’s current like a helpless shrimp. It brought me this far, I can trust it.
1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!
2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?
3 O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.
4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
My attitude is fixed forever: as a vanishing phenomenon myself I share the impermanence of everything around me. I have no choice but to trust. LIFE drew me out of what appeared to be nothing … and here I am! Shall the future of our evolving LIFE be any less trustworthy?
Background. Murphy calls this psalm a “community lament” apparently in reaction to some unidentified national catastrophe that seems to have involved exile for some. In some of the verses it is clearly the king who is speaking. There is no admission of failure to keep the contract with Yahweh. The miracles of the Exodus are evoked, which is a common practice, and thought to motivate Yahweh, along with the dishonor to his name among the nations stemming from Israel’s humiliation.
Reflection. The translation of this psalm into our terms, in my opinion, should focus on the failure of humankind to achieve global peace and a system of harmonious communication among peoples and classes that would assure justice for everyone, and the protection of the survival support systems of the earth on which all LIFE depends. The environmental deterioration is clearly the fault of humankind whose over-consumption — even though at this point perpetrated by only a minority — is a universal choice about which there is little debate. All want to become over-consumers. That is what seals the fate of the planet. Practices destructive of the earth’s ability to support LIFE will actually accelerate as we go forward.
Calling on LIFE to “awake” and perform the marvels that it is known to have performed in the past means we are calling on the intelligence and self-discipline of human beings — the specific talents and prowess we bring to the planetary community — to transform humankind into a species of responsible beings who follow the torah, the dharma, the tao, mindfully in the present moment. We want to be the agents and mirrors of LIFE and continue LIFE’s evolutionary project of bringing new and greater LIFE as if out of nothing. That transformation is also an evolution — but it is one in which we consciously participate. It will not happen without us.
1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old:
2 you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free;
3 for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, for you delighted in them.
4 You are my King and my God; you command victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down our assailants.
6 For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me.
7 But you have saved us from our foes, and have put to confusion those who hate us.
8 In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever.
LIFE worked its marvels and produced us without us. Now we, who are the evolved extensions of LIFE want to collaborate with what we have inherited in order to expand and intensify LIFE in justice for the human family and protection for our sibling species and the systems that support LIFE on earth. We do not call on LIFE as to someone “other than” us. We are LIFE at this time and place, in this present moment, and we want to do LIFE’s work. That will require our conscious self-transformation.
9 Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies.
10 You made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil.
11 You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them.
13 You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.
15 All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face
16 at the words of the taunters and revilers, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
We look at our sorry state — the number of people who live in abject poverty, or beneath the heel of oppressive rulers, and classes and systems, or driven from their homes by genocide and starvation, or slaughtered as “collateral damage” in war — and we wonder, “are we really the offspring of LIFE or has LIFE abandoned us”? It is neither … we know we are LIFE and we say to ourselves out loud: “Rouse yourself!” We have fallen asleep and it’s time we woke up. The work of transforming ourselves so we put our selfish cravings to sleep and awaken to our potential for justice, generosity and compassion is within our capacity. We can do this.
17 All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.
18 Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way,
19 yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God, or spread out our hands to a strange god,
21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22 Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!
24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25 For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
I remember who I am. I have not forgotten I am LIFE. Rise up, LIFE, my LIFE, I will transform myself to give you room to work your marvels.
Background. A royal psalm composed by the court poet on the occasion of the marriage of the king to a foreign princess. It is unique among psalms. The king is referred to as “God” in v.6, imputing a super-human quality to royalty. Signs of the king’s favor with God will be his military conquests. The princess may be from Tyre. The actual occasion cannot be determined.
Reflection. This psalm requires a considerable amount of adjustment. The king as the “favorite son” of Elohim may be translated into the human individual and the human community as the offspring of LIFE, bearers of its genetic inclinations for justice, generosity and compassion. The “warfare” may become the human struggle to transform its unconscious cravings through mindfulness into the joyful desire to collaborate with LIFE’s work. The princess may also become a symbol for the human individual and community, traditional in scripture, as the bride and consort of LIFE, bound to LIFE by vows of love. Partnership with LIFE will bring forth, as progeny, new LIFE, as much the children of humankind as of LIFE. We are the collaborators of LIFE.
1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
2 You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.
3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and majesty.
4 In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right; let your right hand teach you dread deeds.
5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.
6 Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him;
12 the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people
13 with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
14 in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.
16 In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.
Background. A hymn of praise for Yahweh’s strength which defends Israel. As Yahweh controls natural events, so too he controls the power of Israel’s enemies.
Reflection. For us LIFE is the ultimate power we acknowledge. It was LIFE that evolved living organisms from an inert and chaotic earth; it is LIFE’s presence in our efforts to mirror and promote LIFE that give us joy and peace, and it is LIFE, after all and in spite of all, that “makes wars cease … breaks the bow and shatters the spear and burns the shields.” “Be still and know that I am LIFE, exalted among the nations, exalted over the earth.” LIFE will eventually win out. Nothing can oppose its penetrating power, like water carving the face of a mountain. Trust LIFE!
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
LIFE was stronger than chaos’ entropy; it tamed the destructive torrents and turned them into placid rivers that serve the needs of the human community. LIFE resides in the justice and love of humankind’s social life. It can never be eradicated.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
LIFE is stronger than our tribal conflicts and the torments we heap on one another in their pursuit. The same LIFE enlivens us all; we are one family; thinking we are separate tribes is an illusion. One day we will wake up. The day is coming when LIFE, acting through our intelligence, responsibility and mindful efforts at transformation, will make wars cease across the globe, even prompting us to destroy the very weapons that we have spent so much wasted talent and treasure developing. We will do this someday, because we all share the same LIFE and we all bear forward its agenda. LIFE rules us all.
Background. A psalm of praise possibly used during a conjectured rite of the enthronement of the Ark of the Covenant. The universalism derives exclusively from Yahweh’s superiority as a conquering war god, not to his creation of the universe, a theme that seems to have developed later in the context of the exile experience of military impotence.
Reflection. An appropriate song of praise to LIFE that rules us all because we are all LIFE’s offspring. All references to tribal superiority are understood to be metaphors: LIFE (Yahweh) as “king,” conqueror, who subjects other tribes to Israel, and who donated Palestine to the Hebrews, etc., are no longer valid. We are one human family. The universalism for us is not a choice; it is biological: we share the same DNA evolved from the same ancestors.
1 Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2 For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.
5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
8 God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.
We are alive with LIFE itself. How can we keep from singing?
Background. Praise for the battlements of Jerusalem, which has apparently just withstood an assault. Jerusalem is assimilated to Mt Saphon, north of Ras Shamra, the Canaanite residence of the gods, suggesting the psalm is of ancient origin. Fortified Jerusalem’s power to inspire fear in Israel’s enemies derives from Yahweh’s living presence within.
Reflection. We are the locus and residence of LIFE. LIFE’s powers and potentialities are ours. This is a reason for great joy and sense of security. LIFE dwells in our human community. We are assured of ultimate victory over the enemies of LIFE.
1 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain,
2 beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.
3 Within its citadels God has shown himself a sure defense.
4 Then the kings assembled, they came on together.
5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic, they took to flight;
6 trembling took hold of them there, pains as of a woman in labor,
7 as when an east wind shatters the ships of Tarshish.
The ability of the human community to resist the self-destructive grasping inspired by a mistrust of LIFE shatters the arrogance of those committed to self-aggrandizement. Selfish attitudes and behavior are shown up as stunted and puny in comparison with the immense largesse of the compassion and generous loving kindness of the mirrors and agents of LIFE.
8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes forever.
9 We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
10 Your name, O God, like your praise, reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with victory.
11 Let Mount Zion be glad, let the towns of Judah rejoice because of your judgments.
12 Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers,
13 consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may tell the next generation
14 that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever.
It is the presence of LIFE in the individuals and in the community that provides this strength. It’s as if the community were LIFE itself. But we know this is only a metaphor; a word of awe and respect for a community that has managed to extract itself from the mindless mayhem of the world.
Background. A wisdom psalm focused on the levelling power of death. The wealthy cannot bribe death, and they cannot take their wealth with them when they die. Human arrogance is empty; we die like the beasts of the field.
Reflection. This psalm can be used directly without metaphorization. It speaks clearly of an unchanging feature of the human landscape: the impermanence of all things. Human happiness cannot consist in accumulating great wealth because it is taken away at death if not earlier. Without saying so directly, the psalm suggests we ask ourselves: in what, then, does human happiness consist? LIFE itself, the psalmist offers, personified poetically as “God” in verse 15, will resolve that problem. Is this an intimation of immortality? Its vagueness suggests otherwise: a more general trust that is consistent with the almost universal pre-Platonic beliefs about a shadowy afterlife. The inner dynamic, however, is the same. To trust is open-ended: it has no specific object, no condition, no demand. “Eternal life” is its symbol. “Trusting” is what matter’s energy did throughout the eons of cosmic time awaiting its emergence as LIFE, and consciousness. We trust that we — matter’s living energy — will evolve into what still is to come.
1 Hear this, all you peoples; give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2 both low and high, rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
4 I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.
5 Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
7 Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.
8 For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice,
9 that one should live on forever and never see the grave.
Even those saved from death still have to die someday. This is rarely mentioned in the psalms whose usual pleading to be saved from death is thematic and does not acknowledge the limitations of such salvation. This verse and the next confirm the reading about v.15. Death is invincible. We are powerless before it. Only LIFE can conquer death.
10 When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own.
12 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish
13 Such is the fate of the foolhardy, the end of those who are pleased with their lot.
14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home.
15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.
16 Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases.
17 For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them.
18 Though in their lifetime they count themselves happy — for you are praised when you do well for yourself —
19 they will go to the company of their ancestors, who will never again see the light.
20 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.
Confronted as we are with the inevitability of death, human arrogance and self-assurance based on the ownership of property or power is laughable. This is a basic tenet of the Buddha who also saw it as an insuppressible source of wisdom.
Background. The high moral perspective of this psalm, transcending the universal naïve belief in the efficacy of ritual sacrifice, is remarkable. It suggests a post-exilic origin with an advanced theology similar to that of the major prophets.
Reflection. A number of naïve beliefs are jettisoned in this psalm: That animal sacrifice provides food for the gods; that these rituals have sway over “God’s” actions and intentions. It proposes instead a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” and a commitment to the torah sealed by vows. It states quite unambiguously that the purpose of sacrifice was only to symbolize humankind’s moral and community enhancing behavior. It emphasizes the identity of LIFE with humankind’s moral and communal integrity. We are the mirrors and agents of LIFE because we are compassionate and generous to one another. Our surrender to what we are and what we can become is a source of abiding joy.
1 The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.
We stand in awe before LIFE. It is hard to believe that the very LIFE we see pulsing in all the creatures around us resides in us and is the very wellspring of our own identities. Our sacrifices through the millennia are a reflection of this awe.
7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds.
10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
Animal sacrifice is only symbolic. All ritual is only an outward sign of our inner dispositions. Our work is to transform ourselves and our community into the mirrors and agents of LIFE and ritual reminds us constantly of what we are supposed to be about.
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.
15 Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.
18 You make friends with a thief when you see one, and you keep company with adulterers.
19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your kin; you slander your own mother’s child.
Ritual is not magic. Participating in ritual, or having outward membership in a community the professes surrender to LIFE is no guarantee that you will not betray your moral and social commitments which is where LIFE resides. You find ways to take what doesn’t belong to you, you disrespect family bonds, and you tear down the reputation of others — even your own brothers — for your own aggrandizement.
21 These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
You think because LIFE’s presence is silent that it supports your selfishness? Don’t be a fool. LIFE is not found in those things and cannot live where they rule. Be advised: When LIFE departs we disintegrate. When LIFE departs to whom shall we turn. We have no option: we must turn to LIFE, and to do that we surrender to it and embrace its ways. There is no other “salvation” for us: we become the mirrors and agents of LIFE. That is our joy and happiness.
Background. A personal lament. The fourth of the penitential psalms and the most well-known. Expresses sentiments that echo the thinking and terminology of the post-exilic prophets. Is clear that the sin repented of is against “God” and not man.
Reflection. According to the concept of the source of our evolving existence and our sense of the sacred that I am calling LIFE, there is no gap, no distance between LIFE and any given manifestation of LIFE which, of course, includes ourselves and dominates our understanding of what brings us individual joy and communal harmony. When we sin against LIFE we are literally sinning against ourselves, as individuals and as a family. There is no distance, not even the tiniest hairwidth between us and what “God” symbolizes metaphorically — LIFE. Understood this way, there is no conflict with seeking forgiveness from “God,” which, it were understood traditionally, would be utterly absurd. A “God” who lives in impassible unalloyed bliss cannot be hurt or insulted by sin, nor compensated by remorse and atonement. But the “God” who is our LIFE is throttled in the capacity to expand LIFE by our sin.
We can hurt and damage ourselves and our families. Denying the community the fruit of our moral insight and courageous commitment perpetrates a profound injustice, and send ripples of repercussion rolling outward that will have unpredictable effects far into the future.
We can thus understand the Buddha’s refusal to spend even one second in fruitless remorse and self-castigation. He considered effusive affect a waste of time and energy and preferred to have it re-applied immediately to achieving the goals of moral transformation. Knowing that we betrayed ourselves is enough. The only amount of regret we need is whatever is sufficient and necessary to get us back on the wagon. For LIFE is to be had in the joy of our compassion and generosity, not in the pain of our compunction.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
By betraying myself and my people I am betraying LIFE itself. It is entirely appropriate that I beg forgiveness of what I have damaged.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
This is not a reference to “Original Sin.” It’s a poetic hyperbole of self-denigration. Original Sin was not understood the way we were taught until the fifth century of the common era.
6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Wisdom, the fruit of meditation, is the primary instrument of transformation.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
It is the joy of moral living and the enjoyment of the just and harmonious family of friends that is the fruit of LIFE’s action through us in the world. We are the mirrors and agents of LIFE and when we express what we are in our compassion and generosity the world is transformed along with us.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Ritual is not magic and it does not guarantee a change of heart. Compunction IS that very change of heart and therefore is the heart of forgiveness — its proof and its purpose. For a change of heart means starting again on the path of human morality. The call is to action, not feeling.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Through our personal transformation LIFE will rebuild the human community with the justice and harmony that we have always dreamed of. Its rituals will be celebrations of individual joy and the communal enjoyment of one another in the embrace of universal love.
Background. Murphy disregards the title’s historical identification of the “mighty one” with Doeg the Edomite who in 1Sam 22:18ff, betrayed David’s movements to Saul and carried out the massacre of the priests at Saul’s bidding. That leaves a vague unspecified wealthy enemy who betrayed the psalmist with lies.
Reflection. In all these laments, the poet identifies enemies who can only really be one’s own uncontrolled and misunderstood proclivities. The Buddha insists that we are undermined only by ourselves and our illusions of the permanence of things in an evolving universe. The false belief that by accumulating goods, people, land, power, renown that we can build a solid permanent place for ourselves, is the source of our misery and the misery we heap on others.
1 Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long
2 you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery.
3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth.
4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
The “enemy” is always a liar, because the belief in the possibility of accumulation is a lie we tell ourselves. We cannot abide the impermanence of LIFE in an evolving universe of matter. Our injustice will never stop until we stop lying to ourselves about what is really possible in this valley of tears.
5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.
6 The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
7 “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
9 I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
LIFE, however, will turn all this around. The rich man only becomes “evil” when he acquiesces to hurting and stealing from others in order to become and remain rich. Many say you cannot become rich without doing evil. In any case LIFE is the great leveler. Trusting in LIFE we will be vindicated and we will accept our time of suffering as a direct effect of being obtuse about LIFE’s inevitable victory — and our place — in the totality of matter’s energy.
Background. The Jerome Commentary says this psalm is a repeat of psalm 14. Murphy believes that despite the calls for reconstruction the poem is post-exilic.
Reflection. This psalm, usually cited as psalm 14, is used by Paul in Romans 3 to establish the theme of his worldview: the sinfulness of all humankind as the reason for the universal salvation in Christ. What is obviously poetic hyperbole for the psalmist, in the hands of the “scientific” mindset that begins to contaminate Hebrew poetry with Paul’s “Greek” perspective, takes on a significance that later, with Augustine, will become quite literal. It will be used as an indisputable textual premise for western Catholic Doctrine, confirming Original Sin.
Meditating on this poetry today gives us the opportunity to reject that Christian deviation and return to the Hebrew poet’s original sentiments. LIFE and human morality — just, generous and compassionate interpersonal relations — are intimately linked. Some insist they are one and the same thing. There is no relationship to “God” that is not, structurally and simultaneously, human goodness in society. If there is disharmony among us, therefore, injustice, greed, the plunder of the weak and the exploitation of the defenseless, it means that those who do those things are living as if there were no “God,” in our terms they have separated themselves from LIFE, and the victims of such behavior are left to fend for themselves, as if there were no “God” to protect them … for indeed, the only protection that LIFE can offer us is the illumined conscience of other human beings who know they are LIFE’s mirror and agents. Justice is a human creation; it does not exist by itself.
Psalms like this one make no sense unless you understand “God” as the LIFE of the material universe whose miraculous interventions are exhausted in creative evolution in all its forms. We are LIFE in human form.
1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts; there is no one who does good.
2 God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
3 They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, those evildoers, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?
5 There they shall be in great terror, in terror such as has not been. For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly; they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
6 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
LIFE is all there is. Separate yourself from LIFE and you die. The images are powerful: the separated live in terror; they will live in shame; LIFE will reject them. How lucky we are: as the dedicated allies of LIFE we need not worry about any of these things.
Background. A lament. A plea for help against enemies.
Reflection. Our only enemy is our ego, born of a belief that the “self” is permanent. A permanent self would have to be self-made: self-designed, self-generated and self-sustained. We are none of those things. We are alive with LIFE as with someone else’s vitality. It’s not ours to eternalize. And when it goes it’s gone. There is no bringing it back. Once we accept our impermanence as a fact, we can begin identifying exactly those wasted efforts that we have imagined could accumulate to permanence. They cannot. We can begin eliminating them from our lives. The grasping, hoarding, amassing of goods, land and people to satisfy a craving produced by the hope for a delusional permanence for a “self” that has to be maintained by artificial conjuring, can all be dropped and with them the suffering, frustration, conflict, remorse, loss and grieving that necessarily accompany them. It is LIFE alone, activated by creative reproduction in all its myriad of evolved forms, that has LIFE. Our destiny as material energy is as a tiny part of that totality. We are-here because LIFE is-here. There is no other source of permanence for us except to flow forward with the great river of LIFE where we have been carried along with the rest of the matter of the universe for all of cosmic time. WE ARE THAT. We are nothing else. That is our safety and our joy.
1 Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
2 Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
3 For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them.
“The insolent” is my insolence, insisting on my permanent reality. “The ruthless” is my ruthlessness that I have to create and apply in order to maintain my illusion of permanence and grandiosity. “I” refuse to acknowledge the primacy of LIFE. That “I” is the problem: Buddha’s housebuilder.
4 But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
5 He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
LIFE in time will reduce all insolence and the ruthless behavior it demands, to rubble.
6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
7 For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
LIFE rules. I surrender. I will serve it. I will resist it no longer.
Background. A lament. At first it seems the psalmist alone is being attacked by enemies that are so overwhelming that he wishes he “had wings like a dove.” The image of the dove flying out into the wilderness where there are no people, however, serves as a first indication that his original complaint is part of a social situation. The enemies are not only his, they are everyone’s: they create violence and strife in the city, oppression and fraud in the marketplace. These enemies are identified with the very authorities whose job it is to guard the community for they are seen making their rounds high on the city walls, watching.
Suddenly the imagery changes back to the individual’s plight but now the enemy is identified as a bosom friend who betrayed an agreement they had between them. The poetic description of the treachery is riveting: “with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.” Throughout his elaborate lament, the psalmist proclaims his trust in Yahweh whom he begs to redress his suffering and punish the enemies responsible for these travesties.
Reflection. The dispute among the scholars as to whether 55 represents one poem or two is resolvable, because the imagery of the city’s guardians, charged with protecting the people but who are actually sustaining the very injustices that they are supposed to prevent, assimilates them to a “friend” who betrays his agreement of trust with lies and deceit. The sentiment is the same. Treachery and rejection from the very people who are expected to be the closest, most loving, loyal and supportive, is the most bitter of all experiences. It explains why the poet feels utterly abandoned by all human support and declares: “truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.” To get away from people altogether, you have to fly into the wilderness.
This psalm is reminiscent the sentiment expressed in the Little Flowers of St. Francis, chapter 8: “Perfect joy.” Francis was reported to have looked for a set of circumstances that would be an occasion of “perfect joy.” Going on the premise that he wanted to find himself in a situation where there was no escape from relying exclusively on “God,” he imagined the utter despair that would be produced by being knowingly rejected by one’s closest friends and most intimate family at a time of dire need. Those would be the circumstances in which his total reliance on “God” would be tested and proven. He said that would be a moment of “perfect joy.”
Such thoughts are foreign to us. They sound like masochism until you realize that Francis is thinking about love as a mediaeval courtly troubadour. If love is conceived as giving yourself to another, the closer your gift comes to being total, so that you belong to no one else, the more perfect the love. For Francis there would always be a remainder, a love for others, until everyone, even the ones whose love he counted on, had totally abandoned him. Then he could belong totally to “God.”
For those who pursue unity with LIFE the way Francis pursued unity with “God,” we begin with a metaphysical “fact”: WE ARE LIFE. The unity we seek has already been achieved. It is precisely that unity that evolved us as individuals and as a people. It is a complete and seamless identity, for we are nothing but matter’s energy, LIFE — there is nothing there but LIFE — but we have been driven to imagine ourselves as independent, stand-alone possessors of our own being-here as if there were a being-here other than matter’s living energy, the biological LIFE passed on to us by our parents. There isn’t. It is an illusion. Matter’s energy is one unchanged thing in all the things it becomes. Quarks are always quarks, a neutrino is only ever a neutrino even when they are a part of the electromagnetic impulses that constitute human thought or the biochemical molecules that comprise the neurotransmitters that activate the synapses of the neurons of our brains. We are all, from stars to starfish, all made of one unmodified thing, an energy that we exercise as our own that we did not and cannot produce: LIFE.
Hence our confidence in ourselves as individuals and as a cosmos, We not only have, but we ARE LIFE. Even those that appear now to be the enemies of LIFE must shortly succumb to their inner reality. We can’t stop being what we are, but we can fool ourselves with our grandiose imaginations that we are gods unto ourselves. Our only enemy is that false imagined self that really does not exist, and death is the proof of it. If we were gods to ourselves we could re-activate LIFE at will. We cannot. Being-here is not ours to create. We can only pass it on.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication.
2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught
3 by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
4 My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
7 truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness;
8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.”
9 Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech; for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11 ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.
I am more than anguished. I am overwhelmed! For the very supports I have always counted on to interface with a hostile reality have turned hostile to me. Without the protection of friends and family, human society, I am lost. I am terrified of people. I want to fly out into the wilderness and be alone, where I will be safe.
12 It is not enemies who taunt me — I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me — I could hide from them.
13 But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,
14 with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.
15 Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.
The very people I counted on have betrayed me. To hell with them. But now, where do I turn?
16 But I call upon God, and the LORD will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice.
18 He will redeem me unharmed from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old, will hear, and will humble them — because they do not change, and do not fear God.
In the wilderness created by my feeling of betrayal I turn inward to my LIFE. This is all I have. I did not make my LIFE. It was passed on to me by a chain of living things that have found ways to survive through the eons of cosmic time. There is a fierce power there, at the core of my deepest self, in an inner wilderness where I find this ancient force quietly breathing, alone and unafraid. This is a self I have never seen before. I have always been distracted by the self that I have had to create every day with my cosmetic daubing: glutting it with food, pleasing it at every moment, plying it with fairy tales of immortal heroes and eternal gardens of pleasure. They were dreams meant to create a self that did not exist and give it something to live for — goals and rewards that also did not exist.
But this new self does exist. It is LIFE, existence itself. Where it came from and how it got to me I do not know. But there it is, breathing quietly at the center of my being, waiting. Its power is there in all its totality, coiled for action. This new self will never betray me, the way the “self” I dreamed I had, betrayed me.
20 My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me
21 with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.
22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
23 But you, O God, will cast them down into the lowest pit; the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.
My “companion,” the self I had dreamed I was and could count on, wasn’t really there. So when the going got rough “he” could do nothing but sing the same old lullabies and tell me “go back to sleep.” What I really needed was someone to train me for war, for that is what was coming at me. I did not need more soft words and flattering chatter. I needed to wake up. LIFE alone, the LIFE I was given, the LIFE I live as my own is the only thing I can trust: mySelf.
Background. An individual lament, historically unidentified.
Reflection. The usual metaphoric transpositions apply. According to the theological assumptions of our ancient ancestors, the psalmist externalizes LIFE and, fully conscious of the fact that he is not its origin, imagines LIFE as if it were another person who can direct LIFE’s forces to defend him and undo his enemies’ hostile plans. We take this poetically but not dismissively; for the wellspring of LIFE is indisputably beyond any one of us or even the totality of living things.
1 Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me;
2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me. O Most High,
3 when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me?
Cognizant of LIFE’s limitless origins before the limited time of all living organisms, the psalmist feels the sacred immortal power that lies at the wellspring of all things. HE IS THAT! He is alive with LIFE and knows that he is also part of its destiny.
5 All day long they seek to injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6 They stir up strife, they lurk, they watch my steps. As they hoped to have my life,
7 so repay them for their crime; in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I am not afraid. What can a mere mortal do to me?
We too are “mere mortals” but our connection to LIFE makes us more.
12 My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Background. Another individual lament of someone under attack. God’s help transforms the poem into a thanksgiving song. References to the “nations” is a common theme in thanksgiving songs and does not identify the psalmist as living in the diaspora.
Reflection. The ancients identified LIFE and power. They drew a direct line from God’s action on their behalf to the praise and glory they would propagate in the world of human communities (nations) enhancing “God’s reputation and status. It was a simple quid pro quo formula that is no longer valid. The “God” we acknowledge is matter’s LIFE in which “we live and move and have our being” because we are literally constructed of it. We not only have, but we are LIFE and we know that calling on it means to evoke the activation of our own moral-material potential. If there are enemies, if there are obstacles, they are ours to engage and defeat, acting alone or in concert with other living human beings aware of their role as the mirrors and agents of LIFE. LIFE is our dharma: simultaneously the path and energizer of our living human potential. By taking that path we can count on an intensification of the synergy that is constitutive of our very personalities. WE ARE THAT and THAT is LIFE. The conquest we seek is simply an extension of the conquest that is our living material existence wrought by evolution. LIFE is triumphant in us and as us.
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.
2 I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.
4 I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.
6 They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into it themselves.
These enemies appear to be human beings, or more appropriately for us, those imaginings with their drives and urges emerging from our own conatus that undermine our identification with LIFE, the dharma. They see our isolation and vulnerability and they provoke panic. Because LIFE is not physically perceptible as separate from us, they persuade us that it simply not there: that we are alone in our struggle. They delude us into thinking we should grab, and hoard, and kill, and steal like everyone else, just to defend ourselves.
Thus we become like our enemies and the selfish things we do to survive end up being the source of our own destruction. We have no choice except to trust the power of the path of LIFE. For that is what we are. LIFE is our destiny. Suddenly, when I stop resisting, the fear falls away and my heart is full of song.
7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody.
8 Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.
9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.
Background. The “gods” are the imagined “heavenly court”— minor divinities believed to be subordinate to Yahweh, called in other places “the sons of God.” Each of these divinities were also supposed to protect and promote other tribes. The poet rebukes them — one may assume — because they have permitted their tribe to perpetrate injustice and violence on others and in this case probably on Israel. So the “gods” are judged guilty of planning evil because the actions of their people are evil and stem from evil thinking. Thought is the realm of the gods.
Yahweh will confirm his supremacy by a visible display in reverse order: the oppressor nation is defeated and its arrogant claims to superiority conspicuously humiliated thus proving that their “god” and its “thinking” has been reprimanded and made to obey Yahweh. Thus faith in Yahweh and his well-thought-out path will be restored.
Reflection. The theological cosmogony imagined in this poem is utterly foreign to us. That makes it very difficult to assign metaphors to the dynamic relationships among the various players in the international political drama. Any attempt will be arbitrary and artificial. That having been said, it is axiomatic for us that Yahweh is an ancient metaphor for LIFE, and in all cases we want LIFE as dharma — the path of self-control, egalitarian justice, compassion and generosity — to assert its supremacy above all other competing ideologies. Truncated ideological distortions that would make “gods” out of the rugged individual, the superior race or nation, the educated elite, the dominant gender or the wealthy, powerful and merciless, must all be defeated and those various conceptual surrogates made subordinate to LIFE.
1 Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge people fairly?
2 No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth.
3 The wicked go astray from the womb; they err from their birth, speaking lies.
4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
5 so that it does not hear the voice of charmers or of the cunning enchanter.
6 O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
7 Let them vanish like water that runs away; like grass let them be trodden down and wither.
8 Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime; like the untimely birth that never sees the sun.
9 Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns, whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
In the most trenchant and uncompromising terms, anything that would dare assert itself above LIFE as the goal and purpose of our human existence as a community of life-sharing individuals, must be neutralized and swept away. They are our sworn enemies.
10 The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 People will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
Background. A lament with political overtones, maybe from a king, focused on the “nations” (goyim) that are creating problems for “the city” of the Hebrews. It may be imagined that a restive population of “pagan” tribes subordinate to the Hebrews and dwelling in their midst is creating problems, perhaps insisting on calling out to its gods at night when it is difficult to locate and identify. Whoever they are, they return “howling like dogs and prowl about the city.” It is seen as a harassment stemming from open hostility.
It is in that context that the psalmist calls for a unique “punishment:” do not exterminate them (extermination was the standard treatment) or the Hebrews will forget what is was to live among enemies. Rather keep them alive in a state of wretchedness and impotence as a standing display of Yahweh’s power for the encouragement of the Hebrews and a constant warning to the subject tribes to remember their place.
Verses 11 to 13 contain the psalmist’s poetic call for Israel’s enemies to be punished in a way that would maximize its display value and Yahweh’s universal power. Do not kill them, the Hebrew poet says, let the consequences of their defeat remain visible as a standing manifestation of Yahweh’s supremacy. Augustine applied that literally to the Jews of his own time.
Reflection. Augustine’s elaboration of this theological fiction, like many of his fantasies, is conditioned by his belief in the divine destiny of the Roman Empire. It can be found in his Commentary On The Psalms. His remarks on these two verses of psalm 59 is extensive, verbose and convoluted. In summary they clearly illustrate: (1) Augustine’s insistence on identifying the Jews of his day with the Jews at the time of Christ who were instrumental in his death, (2) his claim that the mark of Cain mentioned in Genesis applies to all the Jews, implying contemporary Jews are “Christ-killers” by symbolic extension. It is that mark, he says, that makes the Jews stand out uniquely among all people as not being Romans. (3) His unwarranted identification of the hypocritical Pharisees in Matthew 23 with all contemporary Jews, and (4) the clear implication that Jews are to be kept alive as examples of punishment and failure, vitiates any claim that he held that mercy should dictate Christian policy toward the Jews in the Roman Empire.
Augustine’s injunction about the treatment of the Jews is used again in his Adversus Judaeos Tractatus, a 5,000 word piece that is usually omitted from collections of his writings, listed as PL-42 in the official collection of Latin Fathers. But psalms 44, 49, 68, and 79 are also each cited numerous times and played a major role in that exposition. Together with his unambiguous condemnation of the Jews in the City of God, the Tractatus makes it quite clear that the “policy” of not killing Jews based on verses 11 to 13 of psalm 59 was a theological justification for a vengeful and punitive segregation. It must also be acknowledged that its concurrence with the punitive and sadistic intention of the original Hebrew psalmist is spot on.
In the Tractatus Augustine says quite directly in two places “you,” referring to his contemporary existing Jews, “occidistis Christum in parentibus vestris.” — “You killed Christ in [the actions of] your parents.” Calling present day Jews “Christ-killers” as he does here, cannot square with historian Paula Fredricksen’s claim stated in the subtitle of her 2010 book, Augustine and the Jews, that Augustine’s “theology” derived from psalm 59 amounted to a “Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism.” His intentions were clearly vindictive and sadistic as he projected the future necessarily observable misery of the Jews as a real positive and desirable instrument in the promotion and supremacy of Christianity.
Augustine’s lame attempt to cite the “mercy” of God by saying “do not slay them,” while at the same time encouraging Jewish impoverishment and segregation as “Christ-killers,” was, predictably, ineffective. Pogroms of the Jews occurred with increasing frequency and intensity as Christendom became more self-consciously ascendant through the middle ages. Church-sanctioned violence against “infidels” during the crusades unleashed a pent-up Christian hatred of the Jews that showed that ordinary Christians had not even heard of Augustine’s theory. Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermons in 1146 calling for Christians to slaughter Muslim infidels who despised Christ, and simultaneously to not kill Jews based on Augustine’s reading of psalm 59 fell on deaf ears. People were unable to fathom the difference, and pogroms continued despite his efforts.
This is abhorrent. Augustine’s religious fantasies here as elsewhere were completely dominated by his more fundamental belief in the providential role of the Roman Empire, and the Roman obsession with control and punishment for non-compliance. We can do nothing but forcefully condemn such sadistic attitudes — seeing positive advantage in another’s suffering — clearly enunciated by the Hebrew poet, accurately identified by Augustine’s reading of the poem and reinforced as an acceptable and even laudatory sentiment by his “Christian” application of it to the Jews. Augustine’s treatment, citing the psalms over and over, is tantamount to saying: this is God’s will, confirmed in scripture and embedded in the psalms, the prayer life of the Church, the earthly embodiment of the risen Christ, which sings these psalms as its daily and continuous conversation with the Father. It is claiming this is what Christ wants, in blatant contradiction to what Jesus himself was recorded as saying on the cross: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. Augustine’s ability to disregard the mind and spirit of Jesus’ message is not unique to the “Jewish issue.” His characterization of the Father’s rage at the insult of Original Sin completely contradicts Jesus’ image of the Father in the parable of the prodigal son. This anomaly is found throughout his theology. Its frequency and consistency is such that it may provide an interpretive clue for understanding opaque sections of Augustine’s thought: when in doubt about what he means, assume a punitive imperialist mindset.
The problems presented by this psalm are another reminder of what we are dealing with in this exercise. The psalms are not for us, as they were for Augustine, sacred words that come from the mouth of God, or even vehicles of trustworthy religious sentiments discovered by our forebears and passed on to us in poetry. The psalms, besides their primitive assumptions about divine intervention in history, in many cases call for responses that are simply beyond the pale of human decency and morality as we understand it. They cannot be used by people attempting to conform their attitudes and behavior to norms urged by Jesus and Buddha. We are forced to wrestle with the psalms for only one reason: they have been used since time immemorial to define and intensify the religious sentiments that supported our culture and civilization. They were powerful influences in our formation, and if we are going to transform ourselves we have to reconfigure the psalms in accordance. We go through them thoroughly and critique them without remorse, identifying and condemning attitudes and sentiments that we know now are inconsistent with our moral and spiritual values. Psalm 59 as interpreted by Augustine will deform and dehumanize anyone who uses it as prayer to guide and habituate a spiritual attitude. The process applies to all the psalms. The psalms must be wrested from their theocratic and self-serving tribal matrix and re-conceived in a way that conforms to our values. If that is not possible, they must be discarded. At the end of the day we must remind ourselves we are dealing with ancient tribal literature, not the revealed word of “God,” and prayer originates in the human heart, not from a printed page.
1 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me.
2 Deliver me from those who work evil; from the bloodthirsty save me.
3 Even now they lie in wait for my life; the mighty stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
4 for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Rouse yourself, come to my help and see!
5 You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Awake to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil.
6 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.
7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths, with sharp words on their lips — for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
Analogously, for us, the “nations” who worship “false gods” are our own selfish proclivities that urge us to give our disciplined service to something other than LIFE. We dedicate ourselves to our own self-aggrandizement: the conspicuous accumulation of goods that identifies the respectable member of society; the pursuit of career recognition in the amassing of credentials, titles, achievements, and a level of remuneration that, delusional as it is, is considered an expression of personal worth. This is not even to speak of the grosser “gods” of physical gratification and display to which even those disciplined to ego-enhancement continue to maintain a surreptitious relationship. “Who will hear us? Who will condemn us”? since everyone is doing the same thing … no one dedicates their lives to LIFE, so there is no one who can even recognize the immensity of the breach.
They howl to satisfy their unfulfilled needs. They prowl at night, robbing us of sleep, our fantasies are filled with them: remorse for lost opportunities, imagined betrayals, beginning with our parents, that kept us from achieving the divinity we yearn for, the ego-surrogate for the LIFE we refuse to acknowledge and serve as our true selves.
But LIFE still resides deep within us. The real self, buried beneath the layers of pathetic fantasy may be muffled, but it is not mute. We can hear its voice — our own voice — quietly laughing at the debris that remains of our pointless efforts to replace it by building a “self” that doesn’t exist.
8 But you laugh at them, O LORD; you hold all the nations in derision.
9 O my strength, I will watch for you; for you, O God, are my fortress.
10 My God in his steadfast love will meet me; my God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
11 Do not kill them, or my people may forget; make them totter by your power, and bring them down, O Lord, our shield.
12 For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter,
13 consume them in wrath; consume them until they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.
These “gods” are liars, howling about our emptiness as if we had it in our power to fill it by satisfying selfish desires. It can’t be done. When I think of the damage they have caused, my head swirls with fantasies of retaliation. But then I realize, it is this false self — me — that I want to punish; for these “gods” are not other than myself. No, the solution is to stop building a replacement for what already exists in all its pristine perfection, the Self that is my LIFE. The solution is to stop serving my false self and serve LIFE. The Buddha saw it and said it very clearly:
But now, I have seen you, housebuilder; you shall not build this house again. All its rafters are broken, its roof is shattered; the mind has attained the extinction of all selfish desires. (Dhammapada XI: 154)
14 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.
15 They roam about for food, and growl if they do not get their fill.
16 But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17 O my strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.
Background. A national lament after a military defeat. It might be taken as a royal complaint that Yahweh permitted Judah’s defeat. Murphy (The Jerome Biblical Commentary) conjectures the battle in question may have been with the Edomites and failed to take their fortified city, Bozrah. An ancient oracle is restated (vv. 6,7,8) that confirms Yahweh’s dominion over all of Palestine and Transjordan. Murphy cites another commentator who gives a possible date around 720 bce seeing allusions to the conquest of Northern Israel by the Assyrians in a campaign that occasioned an Edomite uprising. At any rate the king’s complaint that Yahweh is not upholding his side of the contract is unambiguous. A war god that does not provide victory is quickly changed for one that will. Amos and Hosea’s complaint about the recrudescence of B’aal worship in this era correlates with this possibility.
Reflection. Yahweh was a tribal war god. LIFE is not. We can file no complaint when we fail to defeat our enemies, because they are, in fact, ourselves. The LIFE that makes possible my behavior in the world among my fellow humans provides the possibility of true moral action. That is a guarantee. What it does not promise is that our efforts to replace our natural selves with another one, concocted out of figments of our imagination, and designed to re-invent our selves as lords over others, will work. It does not because it cannot promise the impossible. That imaginary “self,” artificially constructed out of imaginary elements in order to achieve an imaginary superiority, will last exactly as long as the conjurer’s art can make others believe it is real. And that sleight-of-hand is difficult to pull off because the magician himself knows what a fraud he really is. The mirage will last until the first attempt at drinking real water by someone really thirsty reveals that there is nothing there but desert sand. To drink real water that sustains LIFE, you’ve got to go to your real self, LIFE itself, the sustaining core of your own being. Tap that well, serve that master, and you cannot fail to live.
1 O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses; you have been angry; now restore us!
2 You have caused the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair the cracks in it, it is tottering.
3 You have made your people suffer hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us reel.
LIFE has not failed us, we have failed LIFE by seeking to project ourselves over others when our real job was to serve them. Forcing what was never meant to be has left us staggering, exhausted and directionless.
4 You have set up a banner for those who fear you, to rally to it out of bowshot.
5 Give victory with your right hand, and answer us, so that those whom you love may be rescued.
6 God has promised in his sanctuary:
“With exultation I will divide up Shechem, and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
7 Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my scepter.
8 Moab is my washbasin; on Edom I hurl my shoe; over Philistia I shout in triumph.”
The promises of LIFE are infallible and its potential is unlimited. Even now leaders and heroes abound who would gather us together to make another attempt at conquering our false selves, usurpers installed by our own treachery in the place of LIFE. Ourselves … this is territory we were meant to conquer for LIFE. It is our destiny. It is ours by right of birth.
9 Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom?
10 Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
It’s no use whining … trying to lay the blame on someone else. There is no one else. By ourselves we have created this selfish vortex and set it spinning in the world; and by ourselves we can re-capture and train it to selfless service. For help we can call on LIFE, our real self.
11 O grant us help against the foe, for human help is worthless.
12 With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.
Background. A lament. Perhaps a royal psalm. Battle imagery dominates the poetry; the “ends of the earth,” is a symbol of being far from home and safety; the “shelter of God’s tent” and his “wings” are common allusions. Trust in “God’s” protection elicits vows of dedication.
Reflection. For us our LIFE, our real Self in alliance with the real Selves of others, is our protection. There is no other. It makes us invincible, for our only enemies are those very same selves when they turn treacherously selfish and closed to compassion, forgiveness and generosity.
1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
2 From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is beyond the reach of the attacker;
3 for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
My “rock,” my “tower” of defense, my “tent” of shelter against the storms of wind and sand and the “wings” of the mother hen who protects her chicks against attackers, are all my self — my true Self — LIFE. Superficially, it might seem like it’s just a matter of self-reliance and self-confidence, but those who understand the symbiotic compenetrated relationship between my “self” and my LIFE — the pan-entheism that acknowledges the living matter that I’m made of to be LIFE itself — the depths from which self-reliance draws its energy and its identity give it a power of action that is divine. Nevertheless, I experience that action — identifying and securing these critical insights — as entirely my own activity. There is no other agent in play here.
5 For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations!
7 May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
8 So I will always sing praises to your name, as I pay my vows day after day.
Background. A “wisdom” psalm containing elements of style found in other wisdom literature like Proverbs. The content also evokes the sage who counsels against trust in wealth and the delusions of grandeur that are always associated with it.
Reflection. “God” is identified with the “right path” which is the original meaning of torah, like the dharma or the tao, the “way of heaven.” “God’s” promulgated “law” is a social artefact derived from that. So, complying with the law leads to LIFE, not because “God” rewards the obedient, but because appropriating LIFE’s energy by internalizing its moral vision taps the wellspring that is the very power of living matter.
1 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
3 How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
4 Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.
5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
It is the resident presence of LIFE at the very core of our identity that inspires a robust confidence that our enemies will be defeated and our lives preserved. The sage knows the secret and encourages everyone — all people — to take exclusive refuge in the wellspring of LIFE and power — the living matter that is ourselves.
9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,
12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.
The wise man’s wisdom confirms his battlefield instinct to take exclusive refuge in “God.” All things are impermanent; all things are empty of own-being. Even the carefully crafted and adulated “self” of those of high estate is nothing but a delusion — in reality not one whit better than the lowly who are disdained. Accumulation of prestige and amassing of wealth is another illusion, therefore how utterly insane it is to aggravate such empty pursuits by committing crimes to obtain them. We are LIFE. LIFE’s power is ours when we make our work the work of LIFE.
Background. Murphy calls this a lament. It is a deep poetic expression of yearning for personal union with “God,” and suggests that the poet is a mystic or at least has had mystical experience. “God’s” absence for him is like living in a desert, a wasteland without water. To fill the absence the poet naturally thinks of the Temple, “God’s” residence on earth. That slakes his thirst and gives him a newfound sense of “God’s” presence; it is “better than life.” It stays with him through the night and his sense of well being is profound.
Reflection. Mystical experience for pan-entheists is not having an encounter with another person called God, but rather experiencing the real identity of what I am: the simple and unadulterated metaphysical unity of myself and my constitutent source. I am my source evolved. There is no difference between us, not even a sliver of a gap. The material is the exactly same. The unity has been fully achieved from the beginning. The only thing that still lags is the time-dependent evolution of a conscious perception of that identity: my experienced realization that I am my source evolved. Nourished by meditation and the continuous practice of mindfulness, it is a realization of the primordial, pre-existing identity of myself and my source. That is mystical experience.
1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
There is nothing to compare with the feeling of security, fulfillment, homecoming, inner peace, personal self-esteem and empowerment that occurs when my body resonates with the realization that I and the wellspring of my LIFE are one. Being made exclusively of matter, I not only have LIFE, I am LIFE. The joy is unsuppressible. It’s hard even to sleep: you want to explore every corner of this newly discovered reality and savor every newly understood connection.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Those who do not understand this “one thing necessary” are undermining themselves and making life impossible for everyone else. By not aligning themselves with LIFE they end up standing opposed to the very forces of collaboration, sharing, justice, compassion and generosity that make it possible for all of us — including them — to survive and be happy.
Background. A lament. The usual metaphors apply.
Reflection. Always the enemy. We are ourselves the enemy. We are the ones who scheme and plot, imagining that we are hiding our selfish intentions. We even try to fool ourselves. But our real Self sits in judgment on our motives — it is the only one who really knows and has a right to judge — and despite our claims of innocence, accuses us without mercy or apology.
The easiest steppingstones for our self-aggrandizement are the blameless: they do not suspect what we are up to. No one knows, we say, no one knows. But LIFE functions on another set of priorities and since we are alive in LIFE’s world, when we fail to follow those priorities, LIFE’s circuits — our circuits — jam, plans go awry and our selfish intentions are revealed to our shame, because at the end of the day everyone knows who we really are.
1 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy.
2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers,
3 who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows,
4 shooting from ambush at the blameless; they shoot suddenly and without fear.
5 They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see us?
6 Who can search out our crimes? We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.” For the human heart and mind are deep.
There is human intelligence that collaborates with others for our common survival, to end human isolation and suffering and spread the joy of LIFE; and then there is human intelligence activated in the service of a “self” that was somehow denied the experience of its innate dignity, and in compensation created the fantasy of another “greater self” to be fabricated in isolation from others, disdaining, exploiting and negating those who refuse the adulation it craves. Intelligence, dulled by its cravings, still remains aware that it is working against LIFE; and so it has to work alone, remain hidden and plan quietly. Its astuteness is legendary, but it is entirely expended in cunning: in creating snares, attacking from ambush, victimizing the blameless — and muffling its own true, still blameless but abandoned Self — who don’t expect such savagery to come from what otherwise appears to be a human being.
7 But God will shoot his arrow at them; they will be wounded suddenly.
8 Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake with horror.
9 Then everyone will fear; they will tell what God has brought about, and ponder what he has done.
10 Let the righteous rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him. Let all the upright in heart glory.
LIFE does not retaliate, but its joyful communal energy cannot engage with selfish enterprises even those disguised in the robes of the “spiritual” and transcendent. Sooner or later the tongue talks too much and the apparent intelligence is revealed for what it is: a cunning machination to launch a non-existent “self” into orbit high above earth’s life-giving atmosphere and the plodding satisfactions enjoyed by those bound and bound together by its crushing gravity. Icarus, the false “self,” like a bird struck suddenly by an arrow, plummets headlong into the sea, where the gravity of the sharks will soon bind it to the planet in a way it would never have accepted otherwise. And the elegant Flemish ploughman, does he even notice? Is he pondering LIFE? All we really know is he ploughs.
Background. A psalm of praise for the wonders of creation. Murphy takes pains to emphasize: “not thanksgiving.” Yahweh’s awesome work of creation establishes his unrivalled transcendence and his paternal relationship to all people, even those that live at the ends of the earth. It also grounds Yahweh’s character in magnanimity and unlimited generosity which, in the case of humans, translates to forgiveness. Yahweh’s works throb with joy.
Reflection. We are even more awed because modern science has revealed that the power and abundant generosity on display throughout the cosmos is actuated by LIFE — living matter itself — the energy of existence, continuously producing new species of organic life. Since LIFE is ours as human organisms, the creative power in evolution is also ours, it resides in our bodies making us all simultaneously creator and creature. We are the evolved forms that matter has assumed after billions of years of internal exploration, experiment and reconfiguration. We are our source evolved and we evolve as we reproduce.
It’s the realization that we are LIFE, that is the wellspring of our joy. We are not only being carried along in the flow of living matter, as living reproductive matter we are integral to the project. We are the flow. We own as ours the very thing we desire more than anything else: LIFE and the power to make more LIFE.
1 Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed,
2 O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.
3 When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.
4 Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.
5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
The universalism in this poem is not a metaphor. It Is not symbolic. The Hebrew psalmist reveals the depth of his awe at LIFE by acknowledging openly that Yahweh’s perceived role as tribal god is swallowed up and rendered obsolete by LIFE’s universal creative presence. “Yahweh” no longer defines the immense range of LIFE’s divinity. This insight makes this poet one of our earliest teachers — one of the first of our tradition who stood awestruck at LIFE’s cosmic enormity and “could not keep from singing.” Our science has confirmed and reinforced that vision. We know it is the same LIFE that enlivens the tiniest microbe, freeze dried in some glacial deposit, or struggling to survive in a thermal vent at the site of tectonic subduction. We are that and we pass it on … and by passing it on, it evolves new forms and features that fill every nook and cranny of our vast universe.
6 By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.
7 You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.
8 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.
The keynote of LIFE’s authentic work is joy. It is its defining mark. It engulfs all things as the mirrors and agents of LIFE. Joy! Joy is entirely exhausted in its own self-possession. It is purposeless and oblivious of need. It has no other interest than just to be what it is. Joy wants nothing beyond itself. It depends on nothing, hopes for nothing, accomplishes nothing, proposes nothing, intends nothing, expects nothing, achieves nothing, desires nothing. It comes from nowhere and has nowhere to go. We know LIFE when we see it, because it vibrates with joy in every fiber of its being and action. And it is joy we perceive in every plant and animal we touch. It is joy that we taste when we surrender to the embrace of the present moment.
Background. It is possible that two psalms were joined here because vv. 1- 12 is communal and very different from 13-20 which is an individual’s sacrifice-prayer. It is addressed to “God” not Yahweh; “God’s” dominion over all the nations, however, is still dependent on conquest and continued subjection. Israel has just passed through an ordeal and this psalm is an expression of thanksgiving for “God’s” saving help, which resembled the exodus itself, Israel’s founding deliverance, a preface to someone’s actual sacrifice being prepared in 13 – 20.
Reflection. LIFE is not a war god as the psalmist’s “God” was. LIFE’s dominion over all of humanity is not grounded in conquest or mission or a craftsman’s ownership of the work of his hands, but in genetic provenance: humans are an evolved form of LIFE. We are material organisms evolved from more primitive forms of living matter. It is the creative and apparently limitless abundance of living matter’s activity, expanding the universe and multiplying the forms that occupy it through its own internal complexification, that establishes LIFE’s claims over the hearts and behavior of humankind. We are related to LIFE as to the ancestor that spawned us, whose DNA we bear, both enabling and limiting what we can do. Embracing that inheritance means following the dharma, torah, tao: following the right path. As mirrors and agents of LIFE, our constituent elements — living matter — instinctively urge us toward more LIFE. After securing physical survival, our intelligence discerns clearly that LIFE is to be found in justice, compassion and generosity toward people and care for other species and the earth from which we all emerged. Whatever wealth and wellbeing may be added to the magnificent and fully equipped evolved organisms we have inherited, is the product of communal activity: a cooperative effort and result of justice, compassion and generosity. LIFE operates only in one direction. To pursue other goals is to court death.
1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.”
5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,
7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations — let the rebellious not exalt themselves.
LIFE’s effects are indeed awesome. LIFE has filled the cosmos’s planet earth with a multitude of living organisms of astonishing complexity in numbers beyond counting. Wherever LIFE is found, it is known by its guaranteed by-product: more LIFE. That’s what we saw when we crossed from our former slavery of thoughtless cravings to the joyous freedom of the other shore. That was LIFE’s doing, and it is our intention to keep vigilance over our rebellious desires.
8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;
12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.
LIFE is the sustained energy that feeds our transformation from a no-self trying to create itself to an innately empowered transcendent Self, LIFE’s mirror and agent, fully committed to LIFE’s projects. That transformation is ongoing; it is a grueling series of battles that we sometimes lose. But ultimate victory is guaranteed; for nothing can withstand LIFE.
13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,
14 those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats.
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.
That liberating transformation is the keynote of my life. The fact that it is occurring bears witness to LIFE’s presence and power … for on my own I know I had neither the sense of direction nor the power. Transformation is the new exodus, the new liberation. It is the sign of LIFE’s presence — the only sign. There is no other.
17 I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.
Background. A hymn of Thanksgiving for a good harvest. Murphy [Jerome Biblical Commentary] says, “the remarkable thing about this psalm is how the blessings on Israel are taken as a sign of God’s salvation of the nations.” The “nations” and the “peoples” are the goyim. Traditionally as worshippers of false gods they were to be shunned, and in the case of their presence in Palestine itself, exterminated. Here tradition is broken. They are treated as an integral part of the community of thanksgiving.
Reflection. This psalm is another harbinger of the universalism implied in the belief that “God” is the Creator of the universe and therefore the “God” of all and the only “God.” LIFE — material energy — we know now is the real “creator” of all the forms and features of our universe. We are all the evolved forms of the same living matter, the matrix in which we continue to live and move and have our being. Our love of LIFE and being-here resonates with the feelings of thanksgiving to LIFE expressed by the poet in this psalm.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
2 that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
We speak to LIFE personified as a figure of speech. How else can we externalize the feelings of gratitude for just being alive and being-here. To speak of future rewards is superfluous and redundant. The reward is LIFE itself, and WE ARE THAT, here and now.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.
Background. Apparently a processional psalm sung as accompaniment to an enthronement ceremony of Yahweh in the Temple. Ugaritic elements — “cloud rider” was an appellation of Baal, the “dove” was sacred to Ishtar — suggest an old hymn taken over from Baal worship and applied to Yahweh, who is the war-god par excellence because of Israel’s conquest. Clear allusions to the exodus and the Israelite domination of the “nations” in Palestine support the general interpretation. Clearly the psalm considers the Hebrew people to be the orphans, widows and homeless prisoners protected and blessed by Yahweh’s subsequent conquest of Palestine and its “kingdoms.”
Reflection. LIFE is not a personal war-god committed to Hebrew ascendancy, and so this psalm requires a considerable amount of adaptation and adjustment, if not outright rejection for certain verses. But LIFE, like the Yahweh of the exodus, is the “father of orphans and the protector of widows” who, metaphorically, gives a home to the desolate, frees prisoners and leads them to prosperity because LIFE directs and empowers to human community to the work of justice.
1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.
2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.
3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.
4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds — his name is the LORD — be exultant before him.
“His name is Yahweh,” as if to say “it is no longer Baal.” For us it is LIFE in which we live and move and have our being. It is no longer Yahweh or any other personified symbol for what we are made of — living matter.
5 Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
6 God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.
7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness,
8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished;
10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
11 The Lord gives the command; great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12 “The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!” The women at home divide the spoil,
13 though they stay among the sheepfolds — the wings of a dove covered with silver, its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there, snow fell on Zalmon.
The marvels of Sinai formed a seamless poetic unit with the conquest of Palestine and its people. LIFE’s conquests for us are the transformations that make us servants of our true selves — the mirrors and agents of LIFE — and neutralize the energy formerly dedicated to giving an artificial life to a self that doesn’t exist.
15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, where the LORD will reside forever?
17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands, the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount, leading captives in your train and receiving gifts from people, even from those who rebel against the LORD God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.
20 Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies, the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said, “I will bring them back from Bashan, I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood, so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.”
The hegemony has passed from the northern mountains where Baal resided and now dwells on the mount where Yahweh’s temple stands. For us the sacred has been re-envisioned. We no longer equate LIFE with power, but rather with potential — the potential for more LIFE. We know that LIFE is an attitude and a behavior: compassion, justice, generosity that lead to more LIFE. LIFE’s victory over entropy is definitive. It is complete and can be trusted. Let our celebrations begin.
24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God, the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary —
25 the singers in front, the musicians last, between them girls playing tambourines:
26 “Bless God in the great congregation, the LORD, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!”
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead, the princes of Judah in a body, the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.
28 Summon your might, O God; show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds, the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples. Trample under foot those who lust after tribute; scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt; let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.
32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord,
LIFE’s dominions are universal because its conquest of entropy is definitive. It’s time we stopped worshipping the obsolete war-gods of the past. It’s time they paid tribute to the true source of the sacred: LIFE, living matter.
33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.
35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!
Background: This psalm is the individual lament of someone “smitten by God” presumably with sickness and suffering, and then set upon by others who heap misery and rejection on him because of it. The psalmist refers to the destruction of Judah, hence it is after 587 bce. The communal shift at the end could indicate that the entire poem is allegorical, i.e., the individual’s torments are symbolic of the fate of Judah captured and taken into exile to work as slaves in Babylon and it is the nation that is crying out for deliverance. There is nothing to prevent both being true simultaneously, as the poet may see the nation’s abasement recapitulated in his own. It is also noteworthy that in Christian usage this psalm along with psalm 22 is applied prophetically to the sufferings of Christ, and Christ always was understood as the personification of the Christian community.
Reflection. Suffering is at the heart of the human condition. We spend our lives trying to prevent it, avoid it, reverse it and, knowing how averse we are to it, when the opportunity presents itself, we are all quite capable of exploiting the suffering of others, and even adding to it, for our own selfish ends. The Buddha himself described his program specifically as a way to end suffering, the only way that did not add to the suffering of ourselves or others. It was his unique dedication to ending suffering “for all sentient beings” that led his followers to an awareness of the depth of his compassion which, in turn, became a central doctrine and the inspiration behind the development of Mahayana Buddhism. Compassion translates to universal love.
The sufferings of Christ were always understood by the Christian community as an expression of universal love, hence this psalm acquired a redemptive dimension in Christian history that the psalmist did not originally have in mind. How Christ’s death was to be explained as an act of universal love was a conundrum that generated pathological fantasies in the dark and guilty mind of Augustine who could not imagine any motivation other than a masochistic self-immolation designed to assuage the insulted wrath of an emotionally infantile “God.”
Buddha’s own personal liberation at the end of a long struggle was also called a “sacrifice” in the Dhammapada. The Buddhist practitioner was invited to light his own fire in the “sacrificial fire” of the Buddha. But the word “sacrifice” there is entirely spiritualized, because in the Buddha’s case there is no insulted “God” whose wrath needed to be sated by blood-sacrifice, and, of course, there was no crucifixion. The equation is reinforced even as it remains unresolved: how did Christ’s “sacrifice” on the cross express universal love, and how did the Buddha’s universal love warrant being called a “sacrifice”?
1 Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
The “flood waters” always represent “Sheol,” the place of the dead, in Hebrew poetry. LIFE is its antithesis and, of course, we cling to it, we entrust ourselves to its sometimes paradoxical processes. What we call “death” is one of them. It seems meaningless to us, absurd, intolerable, a contradiction of LIFE. And yet LIFE seems to have enfolded “death” as part of its cyclical, reproductive, sexual strategy for outflanking entropy. LIFE is itself immortal as it has devised a way to continue on despite the demise of individuals (like me) and even species and genera and phyla and kingdoms that it spawned to carry itself forward. The tiniest microbe is no less alive than the most complex intelligent human organism. It is this pervasive and invincibly enduring continuity which also spawned us and forms the core of our being-here. We trust LIFE. Where else shall we go?
3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
4 More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord GOD of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.
There is only one issue at stake here. It is LIFE and its work. The “God” imagined by the Hebrew poet never existed. My identity with LIFE is the source of added suffering: the disdain of the babblers who disrespect LIFE calling it absurd and pointless. It is for standing up for LIFE’s reliability despite its alliance with death that I am reviled, rejected, ridiculed, thrown out like so much refuse. I was once like them, I mocked LIFE for its impotence in the face of death, its weakness and naïveté, its vulnerabilities and defenselessness, for its hope, its love and its bottomless trust. Pure Pollyanna! But now I have rejoined LIFE’s family, I do penance in sackcloth and ashes for my former demonic self, my mockery and arrogance. I deserve to be reviled for my betrayals, but now I am afraid that LIFE’s loyal family will be reviled because of me. They took me in when I changed, and now the derision that has been justly heaped on me will fall on them as well.
7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.
9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.
12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.
I have no place to turn but to the LIFE I once mocked. To be scorned by those I consider fools makes me feel like I’m drowning. Where else can I go but to the antithesis of death: LIFE itself. I see that death is what I have feared all along. It is death that gave rise to my arrogant mocking self; I dared to deride LIFE for its impotent concessions to our materiality, and its use of gender and sex to forge a compromise with death, an alliance I would not accept as necessary. But it is through sexual reproduction that LIFE passes under the radar of death and lives on to fight another day, reborn in another self, not mine. Is that the rub? That it’s not MY self that lives on? It is beginning to dawn on me that the illusion of the self is somehow connected with some delusion I have about death. What is it?
LIFE, save me, if not from death, then from my delusions about it!
13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help
14 rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Death is the issue. The only issue. I have to trust that LIFE has not capitulated to death.
16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress — make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.
LIFE, I call on you as if you were other than me. This is another deception. But what can I do when I feel like I’m drowning except reach out for something outside myself to hold on to. But I know better. I know my imaginary reaching out as to a parent steadies me enough that I come to my senses, regain my nerve, stand on my own two feet and activate the LIFE that is mine. There is nothing so debilitating as fear, and nothing so empowering as real trust.
19 You know the insults I receive, and my shame and dishonor; my foes are all known to you.
20 Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink
The scorn from others I feel so intensely comes from my own past dalliance with the fools who rail at me now. It is that part of myself, still disdainful and mistrustful of LIFE, that echoes and amplifies the revilers taunts: it is really the memory of my own voice that shames me so deeply. My false self, still refusing to die, is my greatest enemy. It despises LIFE for its weakness.
LIFE, help me demolish my false self. I can’t do it alone.
22 Let their table be a trap for them, a snare for their allies.
23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, make their loins tremble continually.
24 Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be a desolation; let no one live in their tents.
26 For they persecute those whom you have struck down, and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
27 Add guilt to their guilt; may they have no acquittal from you.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
May my true Self live and thrive: the vulnerable Self, the Self that is the mirror and agent of LIFE. Let everyone see how commitment to LIFE brings joy and peace and the absence of fear, even though we have no power or wealth or resources, and succumb to dying. Even if we are exposed, impotent, weak and poor or in chains, perishing, our identity with LIFE — our trust and love, compassion and generosity — empowers us beyond anyone’s expectations. If LIFE seems to succumb to death, I have to understand, it is only a strategy.
29 But I am lowly and in pain; let your salvation, O God, protect me.
30 I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the LORD hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah; and his servants shall live there and possess it;
36 the children of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall live in it.
Background. This individual lament is almost the same as psalm 40:14-18. The acclamation “God is Great” in v. 4 attests to the antiquity and universality of the phrase in the Near East where in our times it is increasingly taken as an Islamic jihad battle cry.
Reflection. The usual metaphors apply: the enemies of the psalmist are the enemies of LIFE. They are those forces, internal and external to the one praying, that would sever his/her commitment and identification with LIFE. To call on LIFE for help is a poetic personification. Literally it is to call on oneself, for there are not two presences at the core of things — or at my own core — despite what may appear. There is only one: for my Self is a mask LIFE wears. And my task in life is to insure that no other false self — my major enemy, entirely of my fabrication — will replace LIFE’s own Self.
1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O LORD, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!” turn back because of their shame.
“God is Great” has been an acclamation of monotheists in the Near East since time immemorial. As Yahweh evolved from being a local tribal war god, one among many vying for the ascendancy of their tribes in ancient times, to being the one and only “God,” supreme and universal because “he” created all things, the inclusiveness of our family expanded along with “him.” We know that LIFE, matter’s living energy, is what is responsible for everything that is-here. “Allah Akbar” for us means LIFE belongs equally to all. “God is Great”!
4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”
5 But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!
Background. An individual lament created by anthologizing three older psalms and their codas. The psalmist emphasizes his old age as a reason for mercy and help.
Reflection. LIFE is our refuge because it is who we are. It is by clinging to LIFE and trusting in its over-abundant generous ways that we live. Justice, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, selflessness, vulnerable openness to others, a stillness that comes from self-acceptance and gratitude for what I am — this is the “way” of LIFE. We were raised by people who had a child’s trust in LIFE. Now that we are old and no longer able to defend ourselves we yearn to have our youth and strength back. But that’s not where the strength is. It is with LIFE. In our weakness as infants we found refuge with our people. It is the same in old age. Individual strength vanishes; LIFE’s family does not.
1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
7 I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
8 My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
11 They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
LIFE forsakes no one. LIFE’s help functions in and through human moral commitment — the dharma path — we discipline ourselves, controlling our thoughts and desires by the practice of mindfulness, compassion, generosity, selflessness and we find ever new ways to defend those who cannot defend themselves. But LIFE does not operate on its own. LIFE is not a person like we are. It empowers and enlivens us. We are its agents and mirrors. We are the latest version of LIFE.
12 O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
13 Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
14 But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long, though their number is past my knowledge.
16 I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD, I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
LIFE is not enhanced by words but by the re-presentation of its way-of-being in our human behavior and attitudes. The way we love one another reflects our insight into the munificence of LIFE. LIFE’s abundant benevolence and generosity can only be seen and appreciated when others see it functioning in our human flesh. It’s a reason to stay alive despite the helplessness, indignities and sorrows of old age. LIFE is not enhanced by our praise but by our imitation and gratitude.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come. Your power
19 and your righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my honor, and comfort me once again.
Dishonor only affects my false self. It helps it to shrivel and disappear. Dishonor is a faithful friend. My comfort is to imitate LIFE so well that I entirely forget about that fool that I was trying to create and put in the place of LIFE. When I am dishonored for my arrogance it means that others finally can see me for the fool I really am. Their ridicule is therefore also a comfort. It means LIFE is finally getting a chance to take over.
22 I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have rescued.
24 All day long my tongue will talk of your righteous help, for those who tried to do me harm have been put to shame, and disgraced.
Background. A royal psalm, sung at the enthronement of the king. Its ancient and courtly characteristics are evident in phraseology that resembles what is found in the Amarna Tablets (royal correspondence written in Akkadian between Egypt and other states in the near east in the 14th century bce). The psalm’s claims to universal rule were emphasized by later Roman Christians who applied it prophetically to Christ. The final verse indicates the end of some ancient collection of psalms (probably 51 to 70) identified as Davidic.
Reflection. LIFE is embraced and imitated well or poorly depending on the clarity of vision, commitment and discipline of the individual. Those human beings who come closest to LIFE’s self-embracing joy and abundant generosity stand out among us as special. They are like royalty walking among us, kings and queens, we know them when we see them. There are many. There must be something in us that resonates with this phenomenon for we recognize them instantly. It is unquestionable. We make them our kings. We acknowledge that they are the ones who should run our lives, the ones we should listen to, and obey. They are our rulers, our teachers, our gurus, our heroes, our martyrs. We call them by names we give no one else: Savior, Redeemer, Prophet, Liberator, Shepherd, the door to LIFE, All Ruler, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. They are the very offspring of LIFE for us.
1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
Deliverance, liberation. We are identified as “poor,” all of us, for only one reason. We all die. And in order to fill up what appears to our conatus as an innate, endemic and fatal emptiness of being, we engorge our “selves.” We kill, we steal, we project our “selves.” Convinced that others are taking what belongs to us, we react in kind. We take what belongs to them, abasing them, exalting our “selves” and creating misery far beyond what death alone could possibly inflict.
The king, our liberator — Jesus, Buddha, there are many in every age, and they are everywhere — frees us from this enslavement to our “selves,” from the chains we forge resisting death, not by any magic power, but by being exactly as human as we are and showing us how it’s done. By embracing the very thing we are afraid of — death or its equivalent — he/she breaks the oppressor’s spell and we realize we can trust LIFE after all.
5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
8 May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9 May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and eba bring gifts.
11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
We are enslaved to our terrors; our king frees us from them. No one else speaks so intimately, so accurately, so compassionately to our condition. He understands us. He knows what it is that has us by the throat, our true and implacable enemy, the death that LIFE has embraced as its strategy, the source of our fear. It’s because we see that he is one of us, he understands us and we trust him. He trusts LIFE as a human being and suddenly we realize we can trust LIFE. Hence, he becomes the doorway to LIFE to us. Clinging to him becomes an instrument of our liberation, the way a drowning man clings to a life-raft.
12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
What we receive from him is a trust in our unbreakable connection to LIFE itself — LIFE, abundant, lavish, overflowing, munificent, magnanimous, invincible, indestructible, imperishable, endless.
15 Long may he live! May gold of Sheba be given to him. May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long.
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.
18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.
20 The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.
BOOK III (PSALMS 73–89)
Background. Murphy says “This prayer is unquestionably one of the most sublime and beautiful in the OT.” “Success” was believed to be an indicator of Divine approval and therefore when the evil are successful it is a major problem for the psalmist. He has little choice but to characterize the success of evildoers as temporary. Proof of their error is their “end” which is described in traditional material terms. But what is remarkable is that at the end of the psalm without prior analysis or warning the poet suddenly bypasses his carefully reasoned “solution” and declares companionship with God to be its own “reward,” one that transcends material success of any kind and justifies moral behavior despite the absence of reward.
Reflection. Belief in divine providence is the source of the virtually universal conviction that the prosperous are “blessed” by “God.” It is almost impossible to expect that connection will ever be broken. But the first steps in that direction are taken here by the psalmist. He looks at reality and cannot reconcile his faith with what he sees. We are in a similar situation today because we know that following the dharma, justice, morality, and living with compassion and generosity is the ultimate answer to our happiness as a species and a global community. But it only works when everyone collaborates in the effort. Even then, the happiness that we can expect may not be the material abundance, security, personal ascendancy, and social acknowledgement that we want. LIFE serves us a bitter plate, and our LIFE necessarily include sickness, the deteriorations of old age, the diminishments of economic poverty and natural disasters, and death ― the loss of loved ones and family, and finally our own.
The psalmist saw through the deceits of his religious beliefs, but only so far. He could not bring himself to deny either the absolute and universal providence of a powerful, rational “God,” nor could he deny that “God” must reward the good and punish the evil. The evidence against both propositions, however, is overwhelming. So his “solution” was to tweak the doctrine: he figured “God” must permit evildoers to prosper temporarily, and “God” must permit the good to suffer temporarily, what else could explain what was undeniably going on before his eyes. For if some version of the doctrine weren’t true then either there was no quid-pro-quo connection between goodness and happiness, or that “God” was neither rational nor powerful. In the final analysis he ended up sustaining the conventional wisdom, explaining our reactions as misperceptions created by an error in the scale of time. Everything was the same, just postponed.
It was that postponement “solution,” I believe, that led to the ultimate belief in resurrection in our tradition, a notion that was already afloat and being debated among orthodox Jews in the time of Jesus. That Jesus rose and that we all will rise from the dead is the simple extension of the ancient Jewish belief in a providential personal “God” who rewarded the good and punished the evil ― a phenomenon that obviously did not occur during life.
We are faced with the same dilemma as the psalmist, for in fact nothing has changed. The same debate over reward and punishment continues and in the same terms. We still get sick, old and die. We are still alone and afraid. We still heap mountains of misery on one another, in our families, in our cities, among nations. And those that live without justice, compassion and generosity still prosper, as often from the very fruits of their selfishness as from any other source. The postponement solution did not eliminate the problem.
But our psalmist seems not to have been very happy with his reasoned analysis either, because he abruptly announces another solution that we were not prepared for at all. Where did it come from? Was it a Zen-like satori ― an instantaneous insight that unexpectedly abandons the linear progression of ideas and takes a vertical plunge into the depths below? The unforeseen insight is like a brilliant flash reflected back on itself illuminating and transcending the entire set of notions that were in play up to that point. Identity with LIFE, here expressed by the poet under the metaphor of companionship with “God,” is the “reason” for following the dharma, the torah ― justice, compassion, generosity with gratitude and joy. To put it in other words: there is no “reason.” We love LIFE and we are the mirrors and agents of LIFE because that’s who and what we are. It’s what we do. It is a profound and altogether gratuitous self-embrace, a sort of tautology. There is no quid pro quo because the quid and the quo are one and the same thing. There is no duality. There is no separation between LIFE and reward. LIFE is its own reward.
1 Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.
Like any good analyst, the psalmist begins by laying down his premise. This is the principle that dominates his view of the world and will guide his subsequent reasoning process.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out with fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth.
Our poet lays out the problem: against the background of the principle announced in the first verse, reality stands in sharp contrast with what we were taught to believe. Look at the way wicked people live, they contradict every norm of goodness and decency among us. And yet they prosper and we don’t. How can that be? For the ancient Hebrew poet, it called into question God’s power and omniscience, and for us it calls into question the motivation we have generated to encourage ourselves to live according to the dharma. We have been led to believe that if we live by the dharma we will be happy, and we will make others happy; it will be the end of sorrow; it will bring us joy.
10 Therefore the people turn and praise them, and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning.
It undermines the faith our community is built on, We are people of the contract. It seems keeping our side of the bargain is a waste of time because the other side has abandoned its responsibility entirely. But, wait a minute. I don’t believe that! I needed to meditate deeply on this.
15 If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,” I would have been untrue to our people.
16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes; on awaking you despise their phantoms.
Something happened in meditation. I woke up. There was a flash of insight and suddenly I saw it all so clearly. I had let bitterness cloud my thinking. I was no better than a dumb animal. But now I see: it is the fact that I myself am LIFE that we, LIFE and I, (you and I), walk together with no gap in between us. Material LIFE is obviously my body, myself: the source of my energy, my intelligence, my sense of the sacred, my sense of right and wrong, the very “I” that is called by my name. I am one with LIFE. What more could anyone want or need? This LIFE that wells up at my feet is so immense and universal that it sustains the whole cosmos. Why should I worry about my own death, I am identified with the source of LIFE itself.
21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26 My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
LIFE is what I want … it is all I want. But LIFE is what I have … and LIFE is what I am. It is enough for me to be close to LIFE. LIFE is all I need.
27 Indeed, those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, to tell of all your works.
Background. Roland Murphy thinks this psalm was composed as a communal lament occasioned by the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 587 bce.
Reflection. Buildings have always been important community symbols. Large covered enclosures are always necessary to group assemblies and easily can come to represent the group that meets there, sharing in the depth of feeling that communities evoke from their members. The Temple, moreover, was considered a place where “God” himself resided intensifying the emotions associated with it. Its destruction, understandably, is a felt event suggesting the impotence (the effective non-existence) of the “god” imagined and the utter abasement of the tribe or nation he was supposed to guard.
We are done with all that. The symbols that represent our view of reality are no longer of local communities and tribal gods. They are necessarily universal. And while some architecture may be taken to represent our universal vision, and be highly valued for it, the sense that any place is sacred by reason of a divine presence, is no longer a credible possibility for us. Some consider that a loss. Those who pray the psalms in the name of LIFE, however, see such destruction as the welcome elimination of an unnecessary distraction. Our efforts in meditative mindfulness are directed to replacing such symbols with others that evoke the family of humankind as a real functioning community of mutual protection, respect and concern; local traditions are respected as the authentic tributaries of the one great river of humankind, but they are no longer absolutes. Our community of concern is the human family.
As a symbol that stands for the community and its values, we can pray this lament over a temple defiled as a reminder of how vulnerable our universal view is to being undermined and having our efforts drawn back into a tribal ascendancy that is no longer functional.
1 O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember your congregation, which you acquired long ago, which you redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage. Remember Mount Zion, where you came to dwell.
3 Direct your steps to the temple’s ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.
4 Your foes have roared within your holy place; they set up their emblems there.
5 At the upper entrance they hacked the wooden trellis with axes.
6 And then, with hatchets and hammers, they smashed all its carved work.
7 They set your sanctuary on fire; they desecrated the dwelling place of your name, bringing it to the ground.
8 They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
9 We do not see our emblems; there is no longer any prophet, and there is no one among us who knows how long.
10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand; why do you keep your hand in your bosom?
Yes, they insulted us, they robbed us, they mocked our values, the things we consider sacred, but even biting my tongue I have to acknowledge that they (not their outrages) are of more value than our building, our church, our temple.
They are themselves victims of the delusion that they can gain the permanent ascendancy they seek by exterminating us and the things we love. The day will come when they will wake up and realize that our values and theirs are the same, that our aspirations and theirs are the same ― that they, in fact, are us. That moment of insight and conversion will be like the day of Creation itself. A moment in which the ultimate power of LIFE’s potential is activated in the human heart.
12 Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the earth.
13 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15 You cut openings for springs and torrents; you dried up ever-flowing streams.
16 Yours is the day, yours also the night; you established the luminaries and the sun.
17 You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter.
May the very potential in the matter that enlivens us, the potential released in the evolution of material forms and biological organisms, become activated again. The conscientious surrender to the reality of human solidarity on the part of those who oppress us and that part of ourselves that still believes that recourse to selfishness and self-projection is any answer to the frustrations of life, will be like the day of Creation.
18 Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs, and an impious people reviles your name.
19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals; do not forget the life of your poor forever.
20 Have regard for your covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.
21 Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame; let the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, plead your cause; remember how the impious scoff at you all day long.
23 Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of your adversaries that rises continually.
LIFE is bound to us for we are its emerged form. LIFE’s potential for the protection and expansion of LIFE resides in the community of all.
Background. According to the JBC this is a “liturgical” psalm designed to celebrate Yahweh’s role as judge and punisher of evil. The reference to international politics is clear, so the wicked are, as always, those who do not accept Israel’s “God” as ruler of all.
Reflection. Of course, “Israel’s God” means that it is Israel that must be in the ascendancy and the “evildoers” are those who do not accept that and even commit themselves to destroying the alliance between Israel and the God of power. But once the God of power and political ascendancy is revealed as smoke and mirrors, a fantasy of human imagination generated to justify human social and political immaturity, it falls to the “true Source of our sense of the Sacred,” LIFE, to establish its unique and universal hegemony over the hearts of humankind. That also requires the demolition of the pretensions of the “false gods” that once ruled how we lived. That demolition must be unequivocal, unhesitating and complete. The old gods, Zeus and Mithra, Tammuz and Yahweh, Isis and Astarte, Indra and Vishnu, are absorbed into LIFE and their tribal characteristics erased. That is the sentence of the religious evolution that it has been our privilege to discover and our responsibility to carry out.
1 We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks; your name is near. People tell of your wondrous deeds.
2 At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.
3 When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady.
4 I say to the boastful, “Do not boast,” and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horn;
5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with insolent neck.”
The “horn” of course, was the male symbol, and “lifting it up” was the symbol of domination, of penetration and the giving of life. But it is no longer. What the psalmist said to the nations of the east and west, and the newcomers from the wilderness, who were arrogant in their conquests, now applies to everyone’s tribal god. Those horns mean nothing. It is LIFE that rules us, one and all, and it is LIFE that we must all learn to obey or the cup we drink from will prove to be a poison from which we will not recover.
6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up;
7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed; he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.
The cup we must drink is the cup of LIFE. For those who love and collaborate with LIFE, it produces more LIFE; for those who resist it, LIFE is powerless; it withers and disappears.
9 But I will rejoice forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.
Background. Another hymn of praise for the warrior god who lives in Salem (Jerusalem). Yahweh is depicted as rendering powerful military enemies impotent. He “stuns” them and makes them sleep and unable to use their weapons of violence. The whole earth becomes still before him and he is described as “saving all the oppressed of the earth.”
Reflection. The universalism and non-violent neutralizing of organized violence that characterize this psalm give us a way of using it. Even though Yahweh is still depicted as the god of Israel there is enough here that adumbrates his future role as LIFE to sustain our perspective and values. It is our utter dependency on LIFE that will “coerce” humankind to acknowledge the futility of its tribal arrogance, disarm itself and stand together as one family in awed stillness before the wellspring of LIFE.
1 In Judah God is known, his name is great in Israel.
2 His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.
LIFE is not identified with only one tradition. Our understanding of LIFE has evolved from the days when our ancestors thought that LIFE was the war god of the Hebrew tribes. “Salem,” the original name for Jerusalem, itself means “peace.” Let it stand as a sharp reminder: LIFE is what we obey now.
3 There he broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war.
4 Glorious are you, more majestic than the everlasting mountains.
5 The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep; none of the troops was able to lift a hand.
6 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned.
All the engines of war, the battle stallions that we have shaped to do our violent wills against one another, melt like wax before our dependency on LIFE. We are all the offspring of LIFE. Our reaction in the face of the fear of death is mutual support and collaboration not competitive annihilation. We have evolved. Now we know.
7 But you indeed are awesome! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?
8 From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still
9 when God rose up to establish judgment, to save all the oppressed of the earth.
10 Human wrath serves only to praise you, when you wrap all your wrath around you.
11 Make vows to the LORD your God, and perform them; let all who are around him bring gifts to the one who is awesome,
12 who cuts off the spirit of princes, who inspires fear in the kings of the earth.
Awesome! LIFE rules supreme. In the presence of LIFE ― true insight into reality ― we fall silent. In that stillness, beyond the noise of war, we can finally hear our call: to save all the oppressed of the earth. To think we once prayed this psalm as a battle hymn. Never again!
Background. Roland Murphy says there are three elements to this psalm: a lament over Yahweh’s abandonment of Israel, a meditative transition, and a hymn of praise that recounts the Exodus event. He believes they may have been artificially combined.
Reflection. I tend to defer to the scripture scholars but in this case the coherence and flow of ideas and sentiments is so appropriate and even dramatic that if it wasn’t the work of one poet, it was of a very incisive poetic redactor. Here we have the spokesperson for Israel acknowledging that the very basis of their contract with Yahweh, Yahweh’s saving intervention, was not happening. This is another object-lesson in the evolution of our western understanding of the nature of “God.”
The belief that “God” intervenes in history is fundamental to all the religions of the Book. Such interventions by definition are miracles ― events that transcend the laws of nature. We all know the subsequent evolution of that belief: the exile of 587 bce had a devastating impact on Israel. The prophetic literature that subsequently emerged, without challenging “God’s” miraculous power, began to adumbrate that “salvation” was spiritual and moral, not political and economic. That evolution culminated in early Christianity which saw the execution of Jesus paradoxically as the apex of God’s salvific work for Israel, fully integrated into the entire tradition. Once Christianity was made the religion of the Roman Empire, however, the convenience of the ancient quid pro quo mindset for the maintenance of social and political control (and the credibility of the Empire as a divine agent) corrupted the early Christian insight. Christianity in the West became a theocratic tool from then on, and even despite the Reformation, exists in that form today.
The main thrust of my work in rethinking our Christian legacy is to entirely reject that imagery about “God” and the theory behind it as erroneous and invalid. There is not now and never was any such “God.” There is no “God-person” as we understand the word, and no all-powerful, all-knowing rational force ever intervenes in history. There is no “divine providence.” This is not my preference. It is simply a fact.
Our human sense of the sacred which grounds religion is derived from observations of the cosmos; the source of cosmic evolution, whatever it is, is what justifies and energizes the religious pursuits of all people everywhere. I refuse to call it “God.” Instead I call it LIFE, for it is something common to all material reality and is not just identified with human life and in that sense transcends us. Otherwise I leave it intentionally vague and ambiguous; the only thing perceptible is the material cosmos as it is.
The poet in this psalm has come face to face with the nauseating reality: we have no protector in heaven. We are on our own. He sees the reality, but cannot handle it, for it would mean abandoning everything he and his people believe ― what gives them their identity and their destiny. Like the author of psalm 73, he turns to the ancient Hebrew narrative of the events of their Exodus from Egypt as standing proof of Yahweh’s power and fidelity to the contract. That was a miraculous intervention of colossal proportions, and is recounted in terms that evoke the very creation of the world, also ascribed to Yahweh, the conquest of the waters.
How do we use this psalm today? I think it’s a source of reflection on the evolution of religion and our own evolution as mature adults. The infantile belief in miracles is a denial reaction stemming from the fear generated by our individual conatus. Accepting our human condition as it is drives home the indispensability of human solidarity ― mutual support issuing in a just economic system, compassion and generosity ― if we are to survive. Even as we enjoy having a sacred LIFE as our source and wellspring, we have no “God” as we used to believe: a hovering parent who wills or “permits” everything that happens to us, personally and as a community. Understanding deeply the fears and hopes that drive the poet, puts us in touch with the deepest parts of ourselves. Compassion begins at home. This psalm is a call to have compassion on the human condition ― to understand why we do the things we do … and forgive ourselves. Life is terrifying when you feel alone, defenseless and afraid.
1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
4 You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
The poet begins by sharing his disturbance: he is so perplexed and bewildered that he is mute. We were once like that: the miracles that our religion offered never materialized. Was our religion wrong? We can’t live without our religion.
5 I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
6 I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
10 And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
The psalmist thought about it long and hard. He had little choice but to conclude that either “God” had stopped loving Israel, or he was not the powerful god they thought he was. The poet was convinced that God’s power, at least, was undebatable. Why, look at what God did at the Exodus! He separated the waters just as he did on the day of creation.
11 I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; and no one saw your footprints.
“No one saw your footprints.” LIFE is not a separate entity that can ever been seen in itself apart from the composites it constructs and enlivens. LIFE is a potential to exist congealed into quanta packets of energy whose unnatural tension seeking equilibrium have interacted and evolved to become our awesome cosmos. LIFE’s footprints cannot be seen, for they are not other than our own. We not only have, we are LIFE. This is something the poet could only have adumbrated, not known, for our scientific knowledge of reality had not yet evolved enough to understand reality as we do. We expect that millennia from now, our progeny, whatever form they may have assumed, will have the benefit of an even more evolved comprehension.
20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Background. An early (before 970 bce) historical wisdom lesson emphasizing the theme that Israel’s political and military set-backs are the direct result of the nation’s infidelity to Yahweh. Infidelity also explains the ascendancy of Judah over the tribes of the north, especially Ephraim, and the kingship of David. Reward and punishment are direct and swift for this poet. He has no doubt about cause and effect.
Reflection. Another example of a theology and morality that is totally obsolete for us, and if we were to return to virtually any one of its recommendations, we would have to abandon moral values that we have come acknowledge as central. We would also have to subscribe to a picture of “God” that was thin-skinned, vengeful and punitive. The poet takes sadistic delight in Yahweh’s revenge for the peoples’ grumbling about the menu in the desert punishing them “while the food was still in their mouths.” This same Yahweh is depicted as approving the conquest of Palestine and the subjugation and extermination of the tribes already living there. Our usual way of interpreting such brutality in religion is to claim a learning curve: they were brutal times. As the times evolved so did attitudes towards “God.” Given the infallible religious authority claimed for the Bible, one important thing we can do is assert our right and obligation to sit in judgment on scripture and condemn material as irreligious when we see it. There is nothing inerrant about the Bible.
This psalm cannot be used by us without completely distorting its import. And we cannot use this psalm as written without completely distorting our humanity. Use of metaphor would have to be so far-fetched as to completely change the dynamics of the relationships and replace the content of the narrative. My suggestion: consult this psalm as historical literature, a museum piece that helps us understand how far we have come, but don’t try to use it as prayer in any way. It is best passed over and forgotten.
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.
11 They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.
12 In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light.
15 He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16 He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17 Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
19 They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20 Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?”
21 Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of rage; a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel,
22 because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.
23 Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
24 he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them and he killed the strongest of them, and laid low the flower of Israel.
32 In spite of all this they still sinned; they did not believe in his wonders.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!
41 They tested God again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not keep in mind his power, or the day when he redeemed them from the foe;
43 when he displayed his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan.
44 He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams.
45 He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.
46 He gave their crops to the caterpillar, and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost.
48 He gave over their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to thunderbolts.
49 He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.
50 He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague.
51 He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.
52 Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54 And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won.
55 He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
56 Yet they tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him. They did not observe his decrees,
57 but turned away and were faithless like their ancestors; they twisted like a treacherous bow.
58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
59 When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.
60 He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mortals,
61 and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the hand of the foe.
62 He gave his people to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage.
63 Fire devoured their young men, and their girls had no marriage song.
64 Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.
65 Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shouting because of wine.
66 He put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting disgrace.
67 He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.
69 He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.
70 He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance.
72 With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.
Background. A lamentation over the destruction caused by enemies who were able to overcome Israel’s defenses. It is not clear that we are talking about the destruction of the temple or the results of some incursion, or possibly even the successful rebellion of the “nations” that Israel held in subjection.
Reflection. Another psalm begging Yahweh to pour vengeance on those “nations” who have conquered and despoiled Israel. Taking it metaphorically: our “enemies,” the things that have left our organism in ruins, are our own mindless cravings, generated by an uncontrolled, virtually unconscious conatus. We’ve left them the freedom to do whatever they want for so long that it’s uncertain whether we are still capable of asserting control. We call on LIFE itself, the LIFE that still vibrates under the surface of our reflex behavior, to exercise more than is usual share of the energy that keeps us alive, activate our moral potential and help us restore our integrity.
1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.
It is simply assumed that Yahweh consciously intended for all this to happen. We have to get over that. LIFE is present as a limitless potential, but not as a rational, thinking, choosing personal force. It feels like LIFE itself is angry at us, but if there is any anger here it is what we feel toward ourselves for having allowed ourselves to deteriorate so profoundly. We know better. The intention was ours not LIFE’s. We were the ones who tried to create a new “self” of our own choosing instead of being the self that LIFE emanated.
5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.
8 Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.
10 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes.
11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.
12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
13 Then we your people, the flock of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
Background. A lament of the community. The historical context, according to Murphy, cannot be determined, though the mention of the northern tribes in v.2 may suggest a date of 734-721. The river in v.11 is the Euphrates. The “one at your right hand” is the king and the restoration sought clearly political.
Reflection. The usual correctives have to be applied to this psalm: LIFE is not a person that can be prayed to, someone who acts in human history, a god with a contract with a particular tribe or nation, who will take vengeance for attacks on the chosen people. Nevertheless, we do consider ourselves the victims of enemies. But in our case they are our own delusional attempt to create a permanent self out of the amassing of wealth and having power over others that will survive the decomposition of the body. In our tradition we have been victimized even further by our religious beliefs that erroneously taught us to secure a permanent place in the afterlife by transposing the quid pro quo that the Hebrews had with their god Yahweh to a spirit-God who lived in a spiritual paradise. But even if such a place existed it’s in someone else’s hands; there is no way we can control and assure our permanent existence there. The perennial claim of the Church that it had the power to guarantee permanent “salvation” was the most cruel and cynical of hoaxes, intentionally exaggerating the wrathfulness of “God” and amassing wealth from selling what could not be sold.
These then are our enemies: those who would exploit our fear of annihilation and persuade us to sell our birthright for a mess of porridge: to betray our integrity and humanity in the vain attempt to secure a permanence for ourselves that simply does not exist. We must acknowledge: these enemies have also been ourselves, deluding ourselves and others that leaving the dharmapath of justice, compassion and generosity will make us happy.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
LIFE is like a shepherd to us. It leads us, we sense its promptings for they are our own. It’s like a light that guides us. When we look closely, we see its face: it is ours!
4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
LIFE is never angry with us. What happens to us is the result of temporary factors that will pass away. If people have attacked us, robbed us, insulted us, if they treat us with scorn, it’s because they have left the dharmapath, not because LIFE has abandoned us. They have abandoned LIFE for an empty attempt to secure a permanence that simply doesn’t belong to biological life. They will learn, as we have learned, that LIFE will not accompany them there.
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
Similarly, our own attempts at establishing an ascendency over others, a permanence that would provide us with eternal security and pleasure have collapsed in ruins. Of course we love to blame others. To call on some “higher power” to save us from our own delusions ― if we are serious ― can only mean calling on LIFE to be our only guide. We call on ourselves to let LIFE lead us and shepherd us.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
We ourselves are the agents and mirrors of LIFE, we are LIFE’s right hand.
18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
We are the face of LIFE, may it shine with compassion for all.
Background. Roland Murphy ( Jerome Biblical Commentary ) says this is a prophetic psalm recited on the occasion of Succoth, the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), a 7 day celebration lived in temporary shelters that commemorated the trek of the Hebrews through Sinai when they lived in makeshift huts. The “prophesy” is the voice of Yahweh announcing the first commandment ― the contract ― and the warning of doom if the people abandon it. The Feast also served as a harvest festival. It was announced with the blowing of the Shofar, the sheep horn trumpet also used at other festivals. The “basket” refers to what was used for carrying clay bricks, the Hebrews’ daily labor as slaves in Egypt.
Reflection. We remember with joy when our ancestors in the service of LIFE “heard a voice they had not known” and trusting that voice they threw off their slavery and became a people. Truly a moment to celebrate, because it began the great trek in response to LIFE in the tradition that formed us. It was an early event in the millennial groping that all traditions have pursued in the search for the face of LIFE. But we have come to learn with increasing certainty that the face of LIFE is our own face. Each of us, one by one, are the mirrors and agents of that in which “we live and move and have our being” … for “we are its offspring”and together we form a new people.
Paradoxically, it turns out that it is also the path to our liberation and ultimate happiness. We become a people dedicated to LIFE ― a nation of those who trust the voice whose footprints are never seen. Our fidelity to that vision reflects the clarity with which we see the path that we must walk ― a path of justice, compassion, forgiveness and generosity. We are all we’ve got in this impermanent universe of matter. What else do we have but LIFE’s selves ― ourselves ― to count on? If we abandon LIFE, we cut the umbilical cord that sustains us and makes us a family of loving-kindness. And we will die, each of us, alone.
1 Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song, sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day.
4 For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5 He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a voice I had not known:
A voice never heard before is the call to liberation. It is a call that forms disparate individuals into a family of loving-kindness. The “secret place of thunder” was mount Sinai for the Hebrews; for us it is the moment of mindfulness when clarity surfaces rising through the mud to indicate the “way.” That clarity is the voice of LIFE reverberating in the material particles of our biological organism calling us to be exactly and only what we are: impermanet biological organisms. To abandon what we are is to abandon LIFE. To be ourselves is to embrace LIFE. The Dharma is LIFE’s path.
6 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket.
7 In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
It is all too easy to abandon LIFE and decide that liberation is too difficult, or too far in the future, or calls for too much sharing, gives too much to others, not enough for myself. Better to stay with the multitude of slaves where the feed troughs are full. But when we do, when we abandon LIFE, LIFE abandons us to our own devices and we are quickly engulfed by our insatiable needs; we lose our power to act, to decide. We become chained to our addictions. We become our own worst enemies.
11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
But if we return to following the ways of LIFE, our enemies ― the selfishness that redoubles our suffering and isolates us from others ― would be vanquished by LIFE’s potential for more LIFE, redoubling in turn the depth of internal peace and the joys of mutual security that well up like spring water from our loving-kindness for one another.
13 O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.
16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Background. Akin to Psalm 58, this psalm excoriates the gods of other nations for allowing their people to pursue false values. Justice and protection of the poor and destitute are what mark true “godliness” for this poet, and Yahweh, the King and Judge of the gods, announces that they have failed the test. Yahweh pronounces sentence: they may belong to the race of the immortals but because of their crimes “they will die like men.” Murphy points out that belief in a conference of the gods was widespread in Mesopotamia and is found in Ugaritic literature, indicating that Yahwists had adapted this world of thought to their own contract and their belief in Yahweh’s superiority over all other gods. The motif of the “fall of the gods” is borrowed from Canaanite myths.
Reflection. This psalm, like psalm 58, is a remarkable example of the dawning realization, in a polytheistic system of beliefs, that Yahweh’s superiority over all other gods does not reside in his success on the battlefield or in international politics, but in the moral transcendence of the call to live with justice and compassion enjoined by the commandments. This is a major step forward in the evolution of religion. However that did not prevent the possibility of falling back into the still common belief that political and military superiority ― wealth and power ― were a proof of “God’s” favor and election. The fatal deterioration of Christianity as Rome’s guardian of its theocracy being the prime case in point. Augustine of Hippo’s “greatest” work The City of God was written to establish exactly that thesis: Rome’s ascendancy was the “will of God.” It is a deterioration that fundamentalists of all the religions of the book ― and Catholic Christians are included ― continue to espouse today.
1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
LIFE, through our agency, demands justice and compassion. It is a demand, not a request. This is no moral nicety ― a refined hedonism for the morally sensitive “religiously inclined” among us. When justice is thwarted and compassion refused, the very “foundations of the earth are shaken.” It is akin to what Sophocles believed happened to Thebes because of Oedipus. This is the same vision evoked by the Dharma, the Tao, the Torah in their original sense: the very way of the cosmos itself. Justice in human society is a cosmic imperative, to disregard it is to invite a disaster of insuperable proportions. To reject LIFE is to die.
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
Background. An early lament of the Hebrew tribal federation about the hostile tribes they perceive as arrayed against them. They call on Yahweh to activate his power to save them. The list of nations and allusions to events suggest early history, and the conspicuous absence of Babylon confirms a date before 612. Yahweh’s display of power will result in the acknowledgement that he alone is the Most High.
Reflection. The earlier the psalm the more saturated it is with a political and economic definition of “salvation” and a military interpretation of divine power. There is no way we can avoid unambiguously repudiating this emphasis, especially because, astonishingly, despite the millennia of religious evolution in our tradition, this mindset still dominates the imagination of our people who believe in a “theist” “God.” LIFE simply does not bear any similarity to the “God” we encounter in these early psalms, and we have to acknowledge both what they were literally saying in their context, and what we can no longer accept as valid religion. If metaphor is used it will always be an awkward “stretch.”
Rather than run the risk of recidivism in this matter it might be better simply to use the psalm as a meditation on how far we have come. Reading it then becomes a simple lesson in what is religiously immature … what we should be careful to avoid. It has been our historical challenge to understand that LIFE does not exist separately from what it has evolved into, and therefore all its actions are always and only the activations of the living potential of its emerging (and temporary) forms, one of which is us. The religious development of the individual has to recapitulate the development of the community’s consciousness. We have grown past these childish images. We cannot allow ourselves to slide back into them.
1 O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2 Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads.
3 They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect.
4 They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
If we use LIFE as the analog of the metaphors, “God,” and “Yahweh,” our enemies then become the enemies of LIFE. And the enemies of LIFE for Buddhism and authentic Christianity are our own immaturity: our failure to understand the impermanence of all things and the impossibility of creating a permanent “self” out of a vanishing, temporary coalescence of the energy gathered from the matter in our bodies. The illusory craving to achieve permanence in an impermanent universe is the source of the suffering that we add to the difficulties of survival and the inevitable deterioration and death that accompanies our life-cycle as biological organisms. These enemies conspire against LIFE as we have it.
5 They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant —
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites,
7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8 Assyria also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.
9 Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon,
10 who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 who said, “Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession.”
The Buddha says in the Dhammapada: “Don’t just dig up one craving or uproot one selfish desire, keep on going and destroy the entire forest. Wipe it all out, every bit of it. Temporary desires are designed to achieve temporary goals. Everything else is illusion.” If we call on LIFE to direct and energize our actions, be careful, this is what we are asking for.
13 O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane.
16 Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O LORD.
17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.
Background. Murphy says that reference to the king indicates that this psalm is pre-exilic. Otherwise there is no determinable historical context. It is a poem with a contemplative focus that uses the temple as the symbol and setting for an encounter with Yahweh. Yahweh’s residence is a place of refuge; it provides shelter at once maternal and protective, and like the birds that nest in these monumental buildings, it makes us feel safe and secure; we are at peace. Even the procession on the way to the temple is joyful in anticipation of being embraced by Yahweh ― it is as if the procession were a column of rain passing through the desert and left pools of water in its wake. But the loving embrace of Yahweh is for those who follow his ways; the wicked will never know that peace.
Reflection. A psalm that lends itself easily to our new understanding. Like the temple of old there are many things that symbolize LIFE because they actually throb with it. The primary one for us is ourselves. We who bear LIFE in our human organisms not only can see LIFE all around us in our magnificent universe and teeming earth, but we see it in ourselves. The Dharma, the Tao, the Torah, is the path of LIFE. Through our behavior and attitudes which concretize the Dharma in justice, compassion and loving-kindness for all things, we become a mirror-like display of LIFE. The LIFE that enlivens us becomes outwardly manifest in our actions. As we are slowly transformed through fidelity to meditation and mindfulness we begin to see LIFE’s potential being realized in us. The more we see LIFE faithfully re-displayed in ourselves, we are drawn to love and embrace ourselves ― something that perhaps we never thought could ever happen.
We ourselves are the temple that we enter through meditation and day-long mindfulness. Even anticipating the time of meditation makes us joyful and at peace because we know we are preparing to rest in the embrace of LIFE itself. It is like rain in the desert: it produces LIFE everywhere. The more we perceive ourselves as faithful in putting the Dharma into practice in our lives, the more secure we feel about our own instincts, the more we can accept ourselves, our bodies, these particular material organisms with their weaknesses as well as their strengths, bequeathed to us by our parents and our people. We consent to be what we are as part of a family of people, not as the solipsist, isolated, immortal “god” the false self demands ― a self that does not exist and cannot be created. We embrace ourselves as we are, with pride, without self-pity, in love and gratitude. That is the end and purpose of our pilgrimage.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.
4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
To acknowledge that we are embraced by LIFE gives us such joy and peace, that even anticipating the time when we will sit quietly and undistractedly abandon ourselves to it in meditation gives us joy. We enter into ourselves as into the very Temple where LIFE itself has its temporary residence. Mindfulness makes our whole day fertile, like rain in the desert, leaving pools of life-giving water as it passes.
5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
It is following LIFE’s path that gives wisdom to our leaders; and it is the wisdom of the Dharma ― to live with justice, compassion and loving-kindness ― that is the source of all happiness among us during our brief stay in this perishing universe. LIFE’s happiness transcends anything our false self-worshipping imagination could ever devise.
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!
9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
Background. A community lament, possibly post-exilic but historically undetermined. Murphy thinks that if the restoration mentioned in v.1 is the return from the exile, then this new plea may have messianic allusions. The anticipated salvation is personified as a “kiss” between earth and heaven: a symbol of the contract. The messiah was still an earthly messiah.
Reflection. This psalm has been given a “prophetic” messianic interpretation, probably originally from the Jewish community after the exile nostalgic for the Davidic kingship and then by Christians who applied it to Jesus. From a general Buddhist point of view, however, “salvation” can only mean enlightenment ― that through fidelity to meditative mindfulness we see clearly the structural impermanence that characterizes the human condition, stop looking for an escape for a fictional “self,” stop calling on help from an outside source that does not exist, and re-train ourselves out of mutual compassion to bind with our fellow humans in a community of justice and loving-kindness. Later Mahayana Buddhists would claim that the very possibility of conquest over samsara implies the existence of a True Self, a Buddha-nature, that ante-dates the false self-created by our delusional dreams. What emerges from the stripping away of the layers of meaningless habits of self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement and self-protective isolation, is something that was there all along: a Real Self, the resonance of living in accord with the Dharma, LIFE’s path, something we share together with all things. That Real Self the Hindus call Atman, Brahman, and I call LIFE’s energy ― a notion that corresponds to Meister Eckhart’s idea of the “Godhead” and the Sufis’ concept of Allah. We are THAT, every bit as much as the material energy of which we are constructed. They are the same thing.
1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.
3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
That is a gross deflection. LIFE is never angry. We are the angry ones, unreconciled to our condition. We rebel at what we are, biological organisms in a world of living matter, and the severe limitations that places on us ― the greatest of which is death. Will we stay angry forever? When will we accept what we are, impermanent, perishing creatures, and start having compassion on one another. We are all in the same boat. Grabbing food from a starving companion only infuriates everyone, including yourself; it intensifies everyone’s suffering.
4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
It means learning to love ourselves, forgive one another for we are all driven by the same conatus to live forever in an entropic universe where all things decompose and die. Reconciling ourselves to our condition brings peace. We are the offspring of LIFE. We can let go. Rest in the flow of LIFE that carries us. There is nothing to do. There is no place to go.
7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.
8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
We can dodge death for only so long. Everyone will eventually lose friends, family, and the accomplishments of a lifetime. Building a “legacy” that will live in the memory of others is a pallid alternative to immortality. It only fools us while there are those that even care to remember. But they also disappear in the general emptiness, and the colorless shadows that their pale light had once cast on the wall of history disappear with them. Earth and heaven will finally meet when we accept what we are. That moment will be, for us, like a Cosmic kiss: what we are, and what made us what we are, will finally be one thing. And living in the present moment — the eternal Now — is a foretaste of that ultimate event.
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
Background. A personal lament of generic focus. It appears to have borrowed a great deal from other psalms and so gives the impression of being a “boiler plate” offering used perhaps as stock prayers for sale by the temple priests and paid for by suppliants in court cases. Murphey says “LORD” in this psalm is Adonai, not Yahweh.
Reflection. Regardless of its origins, this poem expresses the same sentiments as others of this genre. The same metaphors apply. The “enemies” are the enemies of LIFE, the Dharma-path of justice and compassion that turns the earth into a community of loving-kindness.
1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
2 Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God;
3 be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.
7 In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.
8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.
9 All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
LIFE is our LORD. The world is the work of LIFE. It is everyone’s undisputed LORD and we bow down before it. The Dharma-path is the “truth” of LIFE. To love LIFE is to walk the truth of the Dharma-path with undivided heart.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Our enemies are our false selves; those fictional creations of ours meant to conjure up a reality that does not exist and which, at any rate, we do not need.
14 O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl.
17 Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
Background. A Hymn of praise on the occasion of an undetermined feast. Mt Zion, the place of the Temple, is central to the worship of Yahweh who rules all peoples. As the universal ruler, Yahweh is assumed to have a register of his citizens … and they are from everywhere. Diaspora Jews also live in all these nations mentioned, and many were born there. The image of the presence of Jews in these lands meshes with the universal rule of Yahweh which also paradoxically means that all peoples are also citizens of Mt Zion.
Reflection. LIFE is comfortably metaphorized by the imagery in this poem. The residence of LIFE is in all things composed of living matter, the energy of existence everywhere, but most especially in humankind who are LIFE’s mirror and agent. LIFE’s living matter is the Source from which all things arise. We are all the offspring of LIFE. We are all the mirrors and agents of the Way of Dharma, fundamental morality: justice and compassion. This establishes a reciprocal relationship of all people to one another. We are all born of LIFE, we are all pilgrims on the Way of the Dharma, I belong as much to any one of my brothers and sisters in LIFE as they belong to me. We are one family.
1 On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
2 the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
3 Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God.
4 Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia — “This one was born there,” they say.
5 And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in it”; for the Most High himself will establish it.
6 The LORD records, as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.”
7 Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.”
Background. An individual lament, conspicuous for the absence of any belief that divine help was forthcoming. It has been described as the only psalm where there is no victory, no redemption, no release … no sense of hope. And yet the psalmist insists on voicing his complaints to “God.” He may not expect help but he expects to be heard.
The poet is “lying in his grave” from some relentless misfortune, and feels utterly forgotten by Yahweh whose “wrath,” he thinks, lies heavy upon him. He sinks beneath Yahweh’s waves, high water being a frequent symbol of death and chaos in the Hebrew scriptures. Not only can he not count on Yahweh’s help, but Yahweh somehow has insured that even his human companions, friends and family, shun him. They look on him with horror. He is utterly isolated.
It is remarkable that this psalm was even included in a collection of what are very often pious formalities built on the common belief of miraculous divine intervention held in common by the tribes of the ancient near east. It stands as a credit to the poetic and religious integrity of the psalmists and redactors. This poet has the courage and candor to “tell it like it is,” a rare virtue.
Reflection. This psalmist speaks to the human condition like no other. His imagery is peppered with allusions to “the Pit,” Sheol, the place of death and lifeless shadows. There is not the slightest hint that there is any way to escape his destiny. This psalm holds our feet to the fire. We are all deniers. We find it very difficult to admit the truth, that, sometimes for everyone, and for some individuals virtually all the time, life can be intolerable. I am reminded of my friend, Tim, an outdoorsman who at 48 years old fell and hit his head. He severed his spinal cord at the base of the cranium and became paralyzed from the neck down. Lack of blood flow to his legs meant that an earlier wound would could not heal and one leg had to be amputated at the hip. He had to breathe with a respirator and he could only speak by having air diverted from the respirator to an artificial sound box. Doing so was dangerous, however, and on one occasion he went into respiratory arrest when the diversion was attempted and failed. I would pray this psalm in his stead for he was indeed a man who was already “lying in his grave” unable to move arms and legs, unable to speak and communicate, left for days on end to the ministrations of a paid staff of caregivers who were all too inclined to use opioids to relieve his anxiety and save themselves from his constant demand for company and communication. Like Jesus on the cross who could not move either arms or legs, I thought I could hear him crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? Was such suffering pointless, or was it redemptive? Jesus himself, I believe, was not sure. We have no idea to what depths suffering can reach … it seems there is no limit. Our clinging to LIFE and our dedication to the Torah, the Dharmapath, has to include these possibilities, for they are all too real. The Disneyland mirage is a myth of the worst kind. It is a massive cultural collusion designed to encourage confidence that technology’s consumer products, including modern health care, is actually a way out of the human condition. There is no way out. The only way is in. Embracing LIFE as it is, is the only way.
1 O LORD, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.
Suffering that entails isolation is the most awful of all. How do prisoners survive months and years in solitary confinement? At this very moment there are human individuals all over the world who are suffering more than we could ever imagine. Nothing says it couldn’t be me. Nothing says it has to be someone else. It’s almost like LIFE is angry and is punishing me. I feel like a leper. People shun me; they smell the residue of burnt flesh and want no part of it. I am trapped and alone.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call on you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.
So I turn to LIFE, but LIFE will not extract me from my sufferings. LIFE is not a god who works miracles. LIFE is not in need of worship and praise so there is no sense cajoling. LIFE needs only a place to live … live, then, in me, but save me!
10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
But I am what I am. I do not know how to die. I cannot ignore this overwhelming desire to live. LIFE, I bear your face, your features, your character, your conatus, your DNA. I am your offspring. I see my face but I don’t see yours. Does the suffering and isolation have to include blindness as well? Why do you hide your face? Of all my sufferings, this is the worst. Why do you hide your face?
13 But I, O LORD, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O LORD, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me.
LIFE, I do not apologize for complaining. What I need now is a god of miracles: someone out there with power. I am dying. I need help, not insight. Until I can let go of my need to live ― a need I got from you ― I will rail against my fate. I don’t know what else to do. You’ve left me to deal with it alone; my one companion is darkness.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long; from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my one companion is darkness.
Background. This psalm is divided into two sections: a long first section of formalities of praise and repetition of the standard truisms of Yahweh’s power and fidelity to his promises. The object of the promises, however, is not the Hebrew people, but, in a glaring departure from traditional expression, that of the king alone, and he is emphatic in reminding Yahweh of the promises he made to David. Then the poet turns to the second and last part: a lament and open chiding of Yahweh for not upholding his side of the bargain. Suddenly it becomes clear: part one was flattery. Yahweh was getting an ego-massage to set him up for what the psalmist apparently thought would be an irrefutable argument that Yahweh could not ignore ― that you have not only abandoned your contract with the king, but you have allowed your own honor to be trampled in the dust. What power-soaked near eastern autocrat could allow such sentiments to be expressed without reacting?
Roland Murphy (Jerome Biblical Commentary, OT, p. 592) bizarrely misses the dynamic of this psalm and with astonishing naïveté suggests that there were two authors or two totally different psalms inexplicably redacted together. In my opinion, this unaccustomed obtuseness on his part can only be due to an unwarranted attribution of “divine inspiration” that imagines the psalms as devoid of negative sentiments ― pique, ill-will, deviousness, cynicism, even sarcasm ― toward “God” that a more secular critic would be quick to notice.
It confirms for me that the psalmist is working out of a very primitive and simplistic theological framework. For this poet what makes Yahweh “God,” is power. The poet lives in a world where all human action is a response to and an expression of one person’s power over another, in the family, in the fields and workshops, in business and trade, in politics local and international. Not much has changed in practice since then, and so we can easily be sucked into maintaining these familiar attitudes by allowing them to guide our prayer. But we must honestly acknowledge: they are obsolete. They have been superseded. We use them as prayer only out of deference to our tradition. They must be purged of what disqualifies them. If they cannot be reasonably updated without breaking bones they must be discarded.
The psalm is also conspicuous for its almost exclusive focus on Yahweh’s promises to the king, not as usually presented, as part of his contract with the nation. That makes the theology erroneous, even for that time. This is another hint that we are dealing with a self-serving religious manipulation that had the audacity to use some liturgical occasion to shore up autocratic power and avoid “regime change” by appealing to Yahweh. The intention was to utilize whatever resource was available: in this case divine help. It used a prayer format but there was little of sincere religious devotion there.
The later Christian use of this psalm as a prophetic announcement of the universal political power of a future messiah they identified as Jesus the Christ adds to its unacceptability. That distortion derives directly from the psalm’s original exclusive focus on the Hebrew king. By linking together the exaggerated theocratic intentions of the psalmist and an unwarranted identification of that king with Jesus, it was all by itself as impactful as any other factor in the total gutting of the gospel teaching on power as service. It was used to justify the mediaeval Papacy’s claim to universal secular power. This linkage is a complete fantasy and it must be broken. One way to begin doing that is to strip the psalm from its place in the canonical hours. It should no longer be prayed by Christians.
Reflection. This psalm is another object-lesson in how we have to approach scripture in general, and ancient prayer in particular. Just because the psalms are found in the “Bible” doesn’t mean that they express authentic religious sentiments that we can allow to guide our relationship to LIFE. Our first and most basic reaction to the psalms has to be to read them as literature and history. We have to understand the level of religious and scientific development that the poets of that time reflect. We then have to judge whether these sentiments are appropriate for our relationship to LIFE and the moral path we are enjoined to follow, or can reasonably be understood in our terms. Even ignoring gross literalisms, many of the psalms express a dynamic ― a relational attitude ― that is simply unacceptable. Giving some “things” mentioned in the psalms (nations, enemies, even Yahweh) a symbolic function may work in some cases, but changing the relational dynamics is another thing altogether. It will often simply distort the poet’s meaning beyond acceptability. I believe this psalm, like others that we have encountered in this study, is in that category. I think we are better off just reading it as an historical religious artifact. An obsolete museum piece. A primitive religious phase that we are well rid of.
1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David:
4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.'”
5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
6 For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,
7 a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him?
8 O LORD God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O LORD Your faithfulness surrounds you.
9 You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it — you have founded them.
12 The north and the south — you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance;
16 they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness.
17 For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.
There is no mention made of Yahweh’s power on display at the exodus from Egypt. At times in the OT, “Rahab” is used a symbol of Egypt, but it seems not to be meant that way here, and is simply a symbol of chaos and of Yahweh’s universal power established by creation. It should be noted that “universal power” is what gives Yahweh power over the other gods that represent other nations. This in my opinion is what is driving the poet: getting Yahweh to assert his dominance in the council of the gods to prevent some impending international catastrophe from occurring to the Israelite king.
18 For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.
19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’
27 I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29 I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
The exclusive reference to the king, his line, his special relationship to Yahweh, the range of his power and the complete absence of any mention of the nation, is a clue to the theological eccentricity here. This is not orthodox Yahwism; it is the king arrogating to himself the prerogatives of the whole nation. The people are mentioned as potential transgressors, but even granting the total failure of the people, the psalmist demands that Yahweh’s fidelity to ”his king” should not be shaken.
30 If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun.
37 It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies.”
Here begins the lament, and once again it is exclusively centered on Yahweh’s abandonment of the king. The people do not figure in this picture except as failures. Damage done to fortifications and city walls is described as being done to the king. Those that do these things are his enemies. The losses on the battlefield are his losses. Yahweh has abandoned his anointed who is only the king.
38 But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have broken through all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 Moreover, you have turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not supported him in battle.
44 You have removed the scepter from his hand, and hurled his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame.
46 How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is — for what vanity you have created all mortals!
48 Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol?
49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
50 Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted; how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
51 with which your enemies taunt, O LORD, with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.
The traditional Christian application of this psalm to Christ is another reason to reject its use as prayer: the original Hebrew distortion which ignored the community dimension gave rise to the Christian extrapolation, applying it theocratically to Christ. Christians have taken it from the Jews as a prophecy of a messiah who will be given autocratic power over all the peoples of the earth, subverting Jesus’ specific call for leadership as loving service and reverting to the paradigm of coercive power: a subversion that the Catholic Church ratified and arrogated to itself. It provided the theoretical basis for the Church’s claims of universal political dominion over the entire planet and justified harnessing Jesus’ message to serve the theocratic interests of every state self-identified as Christian. It’s time we repudiate these sentiments.
52 Blessed be the LORD forever. Amen and Amen.
This ends Book III of the Psalms
BOOK IV (PSALMS 90–106)
Background. Murphy calls this a community lament but acknowledges that it “was influenced by the wisdom movement.” In my opinion that influence predominates. It is a poetic meditation of the human condition sub specie eternitatis; for it contrasts “God’s” creative power and transcendence over time with the short span of a human life filled with toil and trouble. Its poetic imagery, like the grass that dries up and is blown away, is a traditional theme in the psalms and other wisdom literature. But its specification of what we now call the “Biblical span of life,” seventy years for most, eighty for the strong, has become classic. Our powerlessness is so great that we have to depend on “God” if even the few days allotted to us are to enjoy a modicum of prosperity.
Reflection. This poem is easily embraced in our religious worldview for it is simply a restatement of the Buddhist emptiness and Christian finiteness which constitute the human condition and the parameters of release/redemption. But notice, true to the Hebrew absence of belief in immortality, there is no offer of an escape, except in the plea for “prosperity,” an acknowledgement of the essential impermanence of our situation. This is the key to the way we can pray this psalm, for the Buddhist invitation is to savor the enlightenment that comes from accepting our essential impermanence. That enlightenment comes through the constant practice of meditative mindfulness ― living in the present moment ― and provides the only transcendence available to the human person. It opens the door to the perception of the true transcendence of the substrate, matter’s existential energy, which will live on endlessly in other forms after our individual forms disappear. Once the human self realizes that its “self” is only the effervescent coherence of the human organism ― a temporary composite formed from the substrate which will disappear when decoherence takes place ― a new “Self” emerges (which is really the re-emergence of a pre-natal Self) that identifies itself not with the perishing organism but with matter’s existential energy and the totality of the material universe.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
“Dwelling place” in the sense of refuge, is a constant theme in the psalms. It is where we find rest and safety as in a tent against the desert winds or as defenseless chicks under the wings of a mother hen. Buddha counseled that we take refuge in the Dharma (the “way” i.e., doing the right thing), the Sangha (the community of those committed to LIFE), and in himself (because he was a human being who had tried his program and it works). Jesus called on people to follow him, and that his program was “easy” and its burden “light.” LIFE and the community of those who have come to understand that LIFE’s path is LIFE itself, is the only way. LIFE is where we live and move and have our being.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
LIFE is the energy of the living matter of the universe. It is neither created nor destroyed. All things that emerge from it bear its features as silhouette shadows that project the profile of their source. LIFE’s path is the human reflection of the natural order.
3 You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
Human life is short, because we are the shadow of LIFE’s light, not as a punishment. It is our glory and privilege to reflect such a source.
7 For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.
10 The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
LIFE is angry with no one. LIFE punishes no one. These are poetic metaphors generated by an ancient pre-scientific people who didn’t know any better. The sorrows we have added to our struggle to stay alive are the product of our own foolishness in pursuing selfish desires and trying to create a permanent self (or a permanent, superior, isolated nation) instead of enjoying the impermanence that is the sign of our provenance, our unborn ancestry: we are the offspring of LIFE. Our days, however few, should be full of the joy of community.
12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
13 Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands — O prosper the work of our hands!
Our lives as human beings are ephemeral and impermanent. It makes us afraid. We have to have compassion on our fearfulness, and forgive ourselves when we grasp at straws. We are like bubbles on the surface of a turbulent sea. We live and then we disappear back into the vast ocean from which we emerged. Let us embrace our impermanence instead of fleeing from it, making ourselves and all around us miserable. Let us embrace ourselves for what we are, enjoy what we have, and relish the work that is given to us to do under the sun.
Background. A psalm of trust full of poetic images of protection and security: Yahweh is a fortress, the wings of a mother hen, a shield and buckler. Yahweh will protect those who dwell in his shadow, he will insure their victory in war and bring them home safe from battle. Yahweh’s devotees have nothing to fear, not even plagues, or wild and deadly animals.
Reflection. LIFE is like a great shield that covers those that have chosen to follow its path. But it’s not a quid pro quo. It’s not like LIFE personally rewards devotion with protection. It’s that the LIFE-path includes living with justice, compassion and generosity ― the very things that would make this earth a paradise by comparison with what we have made of it. By choosing LIFE we are choosing mutual security, peace, joy, prosperity and success, for LIFE enjoins cooperative collaboration for the building of a just and equitable society. Those that band together to serve LIFE will not end up killing one another in wars concocted by power-hungry egomaniacs nor stealing or exploiting the goods and families of their neighbors.
1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
The principal adversary overcome by LIFE’s assurances is fear. The terrors of the night, worries about future calamities, some silent and unexpected like the plague, are reduced by our sense that we live in a community of concerned friends who are committed to mutual assistance. We all face these possibilities, and they are often actualized in our lives. We can live in peace knowing the dharma-community will do all it can to help us.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
Making LIFE our refuge taps an bottomless spring of moral and spiritual energy that puts us in sync with the intrinsic LIFE-expanding forces embedded in living matter. This release of energy generates a sense of justice which instinctively sees what promotes LIFE for all, courage which gives moral power and authority to the energized individual and community to pursue the goals of justice, balance which allows the individual to suppress and postpone its own ego-needs in the pursuit of what is good for all and wisdom that converts all mere moral or rational efforts into perceptible gifts of human warmth and loving kindness. These four traditional empowerments come from meditating on the dharma ― the LIFE-path. They are the gifts of LIFE, and by them we are protected against every evil.
9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
The reward of synchronizing yourself with LIFE is that you become one with LIFE. Your thoughts, actions, feelings and interactions with others stop being your own and reflect the higher “Self” that you have allowed to take over your organism and its projects. As you become identified with LIFE the sense of alienation from yourself disappears, and something like a companionship with yourself develops that echoes the teaching of the Buddha:
Rouse yourself by yourself, examine yourself by yourself, thus self-protected and attentive you will live happily, O monk! 380. For self is the lord of self, self is the refuge of self; therefore curb yourself as the merchant curbs a good horse. (Buddha, Gautama, The Dhammapada, tr. F. Max Müller. Kindle).
Background. This psalm, according to the Mishnah, was sung in the Temple at the libation of the morning sacrifice. It’s a song of thanksgiving that celebrates Yahweh’s governance of the world, most clearly evident in the moral retribution that he causes to fall on evildoers. It is characteristic of the OT law of retribution that the just man shall witness the fall of his foes. V.9 seems to be adapted from a Ugaritic hymn to Baal, and v.11 celebrates exactly such an event.
Reflection. There is retribution for not following the path of LIFE, for not meditating on the dharma and conforming our thoughts and imaginings to its demands. But it is not personal. LIFE punishes no one. And LIFE will be the last to guarantee any vengeful glee at witnessing the downfall of others. But the path of LIFE is the path of justice and compassion, and abandoning that path is to invite injustice and merciless competition to dominate our societies, consigning the “losers” to a sub-human existence and bitter resentment that may even lead to retaliation. “Punishment” is a metaphor for failing to know how life works and applying its instructions to daily living.
To get the instructions for living LIFE, one must meditate, and carry the mindfulness of meditation into the day’s work by living constantly in the present moment. Without the vigilance of living mindfully, the conatus will launch its paranoid defenses against any and all challenges to its insatiable enhancement. It will begin to build a fortress for itself: a shelter of protection, and a Launchpad of aggression against the outside world that can only terminate in total isolation. The conatus will blindly return to the business of building an ego in place of the true Self, unless, through meditative mindfulness and following the dharma-path it is re-trained to serve its true master.
1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.
4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
The work of LIFE is more LIFE. LIFE’s work is clearly identifiable: it results in the justice, compassion and generosity in human community that make for more LIFE. Only a fool fails to see this. The selfishness and disregard for others that appear to amass wealth and power for oneself, in short order prove to have been a mistake. For they gave rise to the same aspirations in others and it has turned life into dog-eat-dog. It simply does not work!
5 How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!
6 The dullard cannot know, the stupid cannot understand this:
7 though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever,
8 but you, O LORD, are on high forever.
9 For your enemies, O LORD, for your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.
10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil.
11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.
In meditation I can see clearly the foolishness of living selfishly for I can see what such choices lead to in myself and in others. Your attempt to inspire fear will fail. Live in anger and hatred and you will eventually beget anger and hatred in others, for no one can live in fear for long.
12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap,
15 showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
LIFE is our rock. That’s a metaphor. It means LIFE made us what we are and we turn to LIFE as the paradigm of our behavior and attitudes. When we flourish as ourselves, we become more like the LIFE that spawned us. When we flourish as LIFE we become more ourselves.
Background. This resembles an enthronement psalm. Yahweh’s power transcends the creative forces of chaos themselves ― the raging sea. The poet is not dismayed. Yahweh is there. And if that is true then any “definition” that reduced Yahweh’s universal scope and eternal relevance, is to be dismissed. It is creation itself that established Yahweh’s prerogatives. That means his rule is not just over Israel, it is universal. He rules all nations, and dominates all gods.
Reflection. We know what created the universe of things from which we emerged ― living matter. Now, either that matter is the ultimate reality or it is the first thing produced by an ultimate reality that we cannot see. In either case, the ultimate reality is a living material energy. For even if something other than the material energy we know, observe and measure is responsible for everything, we also know that it itself must be a material energy because its first emanation was material energy. It must be capable of whatever it takes to emanate material energy. To claim that its nature is totally opposed in every respect to materiality is absurd on the face of it.
This is LIFE, our LORD, our king, our source, our creator.
1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
LIFE has established the world; LIFE has no beginning or end, living matter is not created or destroyed. We are THAT.
2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD!
The turbulent water of CHAOS is majestic. Entropy rules. No one transcends entropy … except LIFE. LIFE is more majestic than chaos; it is more powerful than entropy because it appropriates entropy’s energy and diverts it to its own ends: LIFE and more LIFE. Consider what you observe going on in the world, … am I wrong?
5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.
LIFE is an energy that trumps entropy. Nothing is more solid than LIFE. LIFE rules.
Background. Murphy gives no historical context. This is a psalm where the “wisdom” genre is prominent ― the wicked are “dullards” and “fools.” But these particular evildoers are special: they are functioning within Israel, specifically: they are unjust rulers and lawmakers. They crush Yahweh’s people, they kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan ― the traditional symbols of the vulnerable and defenseless ― despite being aware that such behavior is unacceptable to Yahweh. This is what makes them “fools;” they act like Yahweh doesn’t see or care. They don’t seem to understand that the very creator of the power to see and care will punish. The psalmist has had personal experience of Yahweh’s retribution for the wicked and the just should not let their faith be shaken by a temporary setback; their suffering is Yahweh “disciplining” those whom he loves. Yahweh can be trusted to punish the oppressors.
Reflection. It is wisdom to understand LIFE. As the Buddha constantly reminds us, when we leave the dharmapath, we suffer and we make others suffer. When we rejoin it we make ourselves happy and we make others happy. That is the “wisdom lesson” for all human beings at all times and in all places. When you suffer, and are burdened with remorse over what you have done, don’t just wallow in self-pity, learn! You have to change your ways. To do that, you have to first change your thoughts: do not think like the fools in this psalm that injustice and selfish behavior is not going to get a payback. That behavior is always “punished” for it entails suffering and remorse. Think about it. Every action generates consequences. Meditate. Learn. Change your thinking.
1 O LORD, you God of vengeance, you God of vengeance, shine forth!
2 Rise up, O judge of the earth; give to the proud what they deserve!
Sometimes things become so intolerable that we feel like we have to call on LIFE as if it were an outside force to enter the picture and help us to stop the nonsense. How long will this go on? It has to stop. There is no question of waiting for it to go away by itself.
3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
4 They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
5 They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.
We know when justice is being trampled because we can see how the weakest among us are suffering. We have the eyes and ears that LIFE provided; they are all we need to see what is happening and know what to do. But to allow our eyes and ears to function without distraction, we have to practice mindfulness. It’s not just a matter of knowing. We need to train ourselves in thought-control and the elimination of mindless craving if we are going to change negative attitudes, habits of thought and destructive behavior.
6 They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan,
7 and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
8 Understand, O dullest of the people; fools, when will you be wise?
9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, he who teaches knowledge to humankind, does he not chastise?
11 The LORD knows our thoughts, that they are but an empty breath.
When we are on the receiving end of injustice and selfishness, it’s easy to think that we gain nothing from following the open-hearted path of the universe. But here too we have to meditate ― think! ― if like the evildoers we also abandon the way, what will life be like, if there is no generosity, what will become of us? Changing our thinking will change our attitudes and behavior.
12 Happy are those whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,
13 giving them respite from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.
LIFE will never abandon us. LIFE’s energy pulsates in the very matter of which we are made. It is matter’s energy for more LIFE that will guarantee that the just will not lose out by opting in. LIFE’s power is silent and invisible because it lives in us as in a disguise. But make no mistake, when we rouse ourselves for justice, compassion and generosity, it is LIFE that is activated. It is LIFE that sustains us; we can trust its power and its presence in our conscience and in our moral response.
16 Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot is slipping,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
For the issue is nothing less than justice. No one can perpetrate a greater injustice than unjust rulers, for they operate under cover of righteousness and the law. They make good people who are disposed to obey lawful authority complicit in their crimes. LIFE is above all authority, and it is LIFE that will have the last word ― the same LIFE that lives in us.
20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who contrive mischief by statute?
21 They band together against the life of the righteous, and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.
23 He will repay them for their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the LORD our God will wipe them out.
Background. A liturgical poem of praise. Creation is the basis for Yahweh’s rule; the events of the exodus are recalled only to illustrate the possibility of Israel’s betrayal of Yahweh. Israel may forfeit the “rest” promised by Yahweh’s protection.
Reflection. Creation is the basis for LIFE’s rule. LIFE is the energy of living matter. It has spun this entire universe out of the quarks and muons of the big-bang, eventuating but not necessarily terminating in us. LIFE may not act like the gods of our tradition, Zeus, Yahweh or Tammuz, but LIFE is what made us. It is the energy of LIFE that explains that we are here and how we are here. If it does not explain why we are here, perhaps it’s because that is a question that only we can answer, maybe it is we who will decide what it’s all for … once we have agreed on what’s important and what’s not.
1 O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!
LIFE’s living matter evolved us. It is our Maker. We would bow down before it but we are immediately confronted with an insuperable anomaly: LIFE is also our matrix: we ourselves are LIFE, for we are nothing more than an evolved form of the same living matter responsible for the presence and character of everything in the universe. There is no gap between us and LIFE. We are one and the same thing. How can we bow down before ourselves?
Worship for us means following the dharmapath ― the voice of LIFE. Our rational moral lives of justice, compassion and generosity reproduce the character that LIFE implanted in us ― an emotional stance and pattern of behavior that puts on vivid display the beauty and joy of the abundant generosity of our Ancestral Source ― always toward more LIFE. It is in our DNA. We hear that voice whether we are listening for it or not; it is the murmur of matter.
8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”
11 Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”
To resist the call of that voice is not easy. You have to harden your heart to do it, because it is the voice of your inmost self, your own body. You have to repress your own flesh if you are going to carve from granite stone the self you think you wish you were.
No rest for the weary. Endless toil … and all for nothing. Don’t waste your time.
Background. This psalm was incorporated verbatim into 1Chron 16: 23-33 and was used in the context of the revised post-exilic historical narration of David’s establishment of the “Tabernacle” (the pre-Temple Tent that housed the Ark) and its rituals. The Chronicler was a post-exilic writer intent on emphasizing the promises to David and his line as the wellspring of a new “royal” Judah, in contrast and in competition with the Yahwist “federated” tradition based on Moses and the exodus. It would seem this psalm, along with 105, also copied into 1 Chronicles 16, was probably available from an older collection, and already associated with the Liturgies that celebrated the founding of the Temple. The “First Temple,” destroyed in 587 bce by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, was rebuilt as the “Second Temple” beginning in 521 under the kingship of a Judean descendent of David. Hence the psalm has had a messianic aura.
It is a hymn of praise at the enthronement of Yahweh in his Temple, the extension of the “Tent” that the Ark was said to have travelled in during the trek out of Egypt.
Reflection. We are the offspring of LIFE. LIFE is a universal, not a tribal phenomenon. for us and our species throughout the planet, LIFE rules. There are no tribal deities that serve as anything more than historical signposts and mile-markers of the long and sinuous global evolution of our notion of the Sacred. Reverence for these signposts, and meditation on their function as historical factors impacting our own understanding, should not distract much less deflect us from living in our present moment: a time of universalist understanding of religion and respect for the local path that each people have followed on their way to this universalist vision.
As a global species, we are, as it were, returning from an exile of humankind in which we remained alienated from one another artificially by the mutual misunderstandings of our respective traditions. We were all too prone to absolutize the metaphors and symbols, historical and personal, that traced our path to where we are today. We have come to a point where we can see that it is false for us to do so any longer because it is dysfunctional for peace on the planet. Some still harbor fantasies of local superiority over others in this regard. I believe it is totally erroneous and the proof is in its inevitable product: it is the path to destruction.
1 O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.
LIFE rules, the gods of the local tribes are idols. We celebrate LIFE and the peace and global health it brings us. LIFE evolved us; we are LIFE in human form. The gods were figments of our imagination; they were placeholders for a creative process that we knew nothing about until science revealed it to us. Now we know. May we never forget.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”
LIFE impels us to justice. The poet imagines LIFE as if it were a king, coming to set things right: are we living with justice, compassion, generosity and loving-kindness toward one another and toward the earth, our mother, and the sibling species we share life with on our planet home? These human actions and attitudes are the dharmapath ― the way of the universe ― all of nature, the stars in the night sky, the trees of the forest, the creatures of the sea, the animals that roam the fields, all are ecstatic when humankind decides to join the cosmic chorus. We are all the evolved forms of LIFE. We are all the leaves and branches of one cosmic tree.
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the fields exult, and everything in them. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the LORD; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.
Background. Another psalm of Yahweh’s enthronement. Murphy offers no historical context for this psalm. But it is clear that the poet still believes in a multitude of gods that represent the tribes and nations that people the earth. Yahweh is king of them all. He rules them, they bow down to Yahweh, they are as nothing before him, and their images and statues powerless ― mere empty idols. It is Yahweh’s judgments, i.e., his moral demands that place him high above all the earth and exalted above all gods. That is the source of his authority, hence those who hate evil are loved by Yahweh and he will protect them from the wicked.
Reflection. LIFE is protected and enhanced by humans living the dharmapath of universal justice and loving-kindness among humankind. There is no other source of power; LIFE protects only by being activated in one’s own self-defense. Those who continue to cleave to notions of tribal superiority that reject the inclusion of all, are idolaters. Like those of old who worshipped false gods, they find themselves on their own and they quickly learn that there is no alternative to LIFE. LIFE is the only life there is. Rather than cling to a past that we are well rid of, let us embrace LIFE as we see it evolved before our eyes: in planetary humankind, in the myriad species of plants, animals, sea life, and microscopic life. WE ARE THAT! Let us embrace this totality of matter’s living energy everywhere. We are one “thing.”
1 The LORD is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Other thrones that are founded on power, or tribal heredity, or wealth, or inheritance from ancestors, or geography, or historical accident, or ancient tradition in thought, science and spirituality contrast with LIFE’s throne which is grounded on righteousness and justice. LIFE resides in the evolved forms of LIFE on display in a morally responsible humankind ― the family of human beings committed to the dharmapath ― and all those earthly species of plant, animal and sea-life that depend on our planetary systems for survival. Humankind can destroy it all. Those who are bound together in the effort to prevent that destruction, are the worshippers of LIFE.
3 Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.
4 His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth.
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.
7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him.
LIFE’s moral requirements supersede all other demands emerging from the human organism. All have to be subordinated to the full development of LIFE. All other urges, cravings, desires, aspirations, projects, must take their place as ancillary to LIFE’s overarching project. Otherwise they function as if they were false gods, empty idols.
Only those who follow LIFE’s path have the deep joy of knowing that they are moving in harmony with the symphony of the universe, borne along by the river of LIFE, going wherever it is going. Today’s joy is part of the endless joy that is experienced by the totality wherever it goes.
8 Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God.
9 For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.
10 The LORD loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!
Background. This psalm’s similarity to psalm 96 and to phraseology found in Deutero-Isaiah (40:5) where reference to the return from the exile is clear, suggests its use as an enthronement song in the creation of the second Temple. Themes of Yahweh’s universality grounded in his moral authority, his creation of the natural world, and his victorious accomplishments for Israel remembering the contract (presumably, the contemporary return from exile and re-establishment of the Davidic line of kings) all confirm this reading.
Reflection. LIFE rules. All other values recognize the controlling predominance of basic morality, and the social virtues of compassion, generosity, forgiveness and loving-kindness, in human life. All aspirations and projects must acknowledge the guiding power of LIFE’s path. This is all the work of LIFE. Including us: we are the work of LIFE. The clamor we send up at foundational events reflects the ecstatic joy we feel at knowing we are LIFE, the recipients of its vitality and the agents and mirror of its power. Its power is entirely exhausted in the production of more LIFE.
1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Justice is not only a virtue within human society, it also functions to maintain right relationships between humankind and all the other species that have evolved from the earth. The peace that justice brings to our human community is paralleled by the peace and security of managing the life supporting resources of the planet and the balance among our sibling species. We are all made of the same clay.
Background. Unlike the previous 4 enthronement psalms, this psalm does not resemble Deutero-Isaiah, nor emphasize Yahweh’s universal dominion grounded in his superior morality and creation of the natural world. Its emphasis is on the more ancient traditional pre-exilic themes: the exodus, Yahweh’s contract with the Hebrew people, the Torah, and Yahweh’s protection. It suggests that this is a poem retained from an older collection and inserted in this sequence because of its character as an enthronement psalm.
Reflection. While the theme of the contract has the unfortunate effect of sustaining a false quid pro quo mentality toward LIFE as personal rewarder and punisher, it must be recognized that there is an unmistakable correlation between living with moral responsibility: justice, compassion, loving-kindness, and the peace, joy, economic security and equity of human society. These are the sine qua non elements of our happiness, and eventually they extrapolate to a healthy stewardship of the earth’s systems of life support and the multitude of species that have evolved along with us. The dharma ― for the ancient Hebrews, the torah ― not only remains the only way to insure a modicum of happiness during our time under the sun, it is also the only way to prevent humankind from destroying the planet’s ability to sustain life. For four billion years the earth has weathered attacks of various kinds on its life-sustaining ability and emerged intact. The only threat that seems it cannot defend itself against is the selfishness of humankind insisting on extracting more than the earth has stored, and in return leaving more contaminants than the earth can absorb.
In a poetic sense, we do have a contract with LIFE. If we don’t uphold our side of the relationship, the entire pyramid of factors that allowed us as a species to evolve and dominate the planet, will evaporate like the morning mist. Our lush and verdant world whose air and water sustains living things beyond counting, will terminate like Mars which once had water and life, but is now dry and lifeless. Nothing says it can’t happen here. And everything we know says that unless we change our ways it will.
1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!
4 Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.
8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.
The metaphoric quid pro quo obtains here as well. While we know beyond a doubt that there is no god out there who will punish or reward us for decrees that he supposedly issued for us to obey, we know with equal certainty that there are unavoidable consequences to our choices. As the Buddha says: “Look carefully and determine what must be avoided if we are to have peace and justice among humankind … and then, avoid it”! The quid pro quo is a matter of scientific cause and effect. Karma. Steal from your brother and he will steal from you. Dump in more garbage than the air and oceans can absorb and eventually the earth will no longer be able to provide a life-sustaining environment for us.
These simple straightforward equations have nothing to do with “religion” as we used to think of it: relationship with a miracle-working god-person who will save us from ourselves. But they are critical in defining religion as we must now understand it: our decision and commitment to join the path of LIFE and be activated by its super-abundant, self-emptying creative power.