Blogging the Psalmist

First, Welcome. “Why should anyone devote a contemporary blog to David, to delving deeply into his life and prayers and to reflecting and meditating on his poetry?” one might ask. It certainly is a legitimate question and one that deserves more than just a word or two in response. So I have attempted to address it as thoroughly yet succinctly as I can in the “Why David?” section of this blog. I invite you to take a look.

But before you go there, let me be the one to pose and answer a couple of related questions: why am I writing this blog? and why now? It’s a story I love to tell. You can read it here.

The Heart of the Law

Ladder to the Sky

In past posts we have talked extensively about David in the way that God Himself described him, namely as the man after His own heart. And we have looked recently at the psalmist’s love not only for his Lord, but also for his devotion to and respect for the law, as he expresses it in Psalms 19 and 119 as well as in his final words to Solomon. But we have not given the relationship of heart and law the attention it deserves. Now is the time that we do. [Read more…]

David’s Lexicon of Faith

Gilded! Huntley Meadows, VA

If you were asked to define your faith, where would you begin? More particularly, if you were required to explain the basis of your belief in God, as well as your understanding of the character of who or what God is, what words would you use? Suppose describing your relationship with God was added to the task. And then you were required to identify a limited number of words– say a dozen – as absolutely critical to your response. What would you say? Where would you find your answers? I would commence by looking to the man after God’s heart, for he has provided us the guidebook. [Read more…]

The Heart of Liberty

As a Burning Bush to Me

Yesterday I awoke with the opening line of Randall Thompson’s great choral work The Testament of Freedom playing in my head. It begins “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” The words of that hymn were not Thompson’s. He lifted them from A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774); and as great composers do, he placed them in a setting that gave them a new life, which both honors and marvelously transcends the original text. From a document that was a decidedly American one, Thompson uncovered and then enshrined in music a universal and enduring truth. Just as the psalmist’s words do – which were also first uttered in a particular circumstance and historical context — these too belong equally to all people and every nation and generation.  [Read more…]

The Great Psalmist’s Voice

Grey Geese Rising, Scottish Highlands

One of my early blog posts discussed literary voice as a basis on which to establish the majority of psalms – particularly the “lamed-David” ones — as the work of a single poet. Although there is not universal agreement on that point, there is not much lively argument against it either. But a persistent, millennia-long debate continues to rage around the question of who that single poet is. [Read more…]

The Practicing Heart

Cascade by the Buckhorn, TN

The personal story with which I concluded my June 7 post was intended in part to demonstrate the mind-heart concept embodied in the Hebrew word lev, as well as to illustrate the power of heart’s memory, in the context of a modern real world experience. I say in part because stories about the psalms, like the psalms themselves, cannot be reduced to a single message or point. So let’s look together at one other, namely practice.

Practice lies at the heart of the psalms’ power for David and for us. As is often the case in reference to spiritual things, a single word – in this case practice – is endowed with several nuances of meaning, and all of them deserve attention. [Read more…]

Learning by Heart

Morning in Maui

When we examined Psalm 34 a couple of weeks ago I noted that the Hebrew word lev is rendered in English sometimes as heart and other times as mind. To do justice to the original meaning in translation the English word would need to embody both heart and mind, just as the Hebrew does. The inability to do so points to something much more profound than a simple linguistic shortcoming. It relates instead to the fundamental understanding of the nature of man. To the ancient Hebrew, human beings were indivisibly body, heart, mind, soul and spirit. There simply was no separating one aspect from the others. Some who live in post-Enlightenment times might find that concept difficult. But it is important to recognize this Hebrew perspective, which David embraced and the Hebrew Bible assumes, before we go forward to the next paragraph. And the next paragraph is not so much about language as it is about experience and life, although words absolutely play an important part in it. [Read more…]

The Heart of Confidence

Edge of Kapalua

My May 25 post ended by suggesting we should regard the psalms as a worship (and prayer and praise) guide. So let’s return to Psalm 27 for direction. We looked briefly at that psalm in Knowing God by Heart as we examined the significance of David’s use of the name Lord when he addresses Him. We also considered some of the metaphors, each using the first person possessive pronoun – like my light — by which the psalmist describes the Lord and his relationship to Him. Then in The Sorrowing Heart we touched briefly on the question of when and how lament can be praise. [Read more…]

The Heart of Worship

Cutting Across the Grain, Tidewater VA

Insight and inspiration often come to me from the most unlikely sources and when I least expect them. Such was the case recently as I drove winding back roads of tidewater Virginia. The landscape is stunningly beautiful in an understated way, even as the vistas are quite predictable: stands of old trees frame fields of waving grasses, rolled bales of hay punctuate the harvested parcels like ellipses and prompt me to wonder what is missing or coming next. And then there are the many dozens of small churches that have stood along those roads for at least decades and more likely a century or two. [Read more…]

The Sorrowing Heart

Spring Blooms for the Swallowtail

At dinner with a friend earlier in the week I surprised myself when I said that one of the challenges of growing older is adjusting to the increased frequency with which we encounter endings. Whether or not my observation is objectively true is open for debate. These facts are not: endings are inevitable, and we respond to them differently as we mature. Both endings themselves and our reaction to them are important in life generally and critically important in what we might term our spiritual lives or journeys. The great psalmist understood these things. [Read more…]

The Heart of the Image

Towards Maillaig, Scottish Highlands

Last week’s post ended with my encouraging you to record the images, or metaphors, that David uses to describe his God. Good poets carefully choose their images to be more than what they are– that is, to transport the reader or listener beyond the “thing” itself to a deeper level of understanding. Poetic images generally call out to us to respond not only with our minds but also our senses – and when the images are in the psalms, we can add our hearts and our spirits – as well as with our own experiences to uncover their meaning. Yes, understanding poetry and the images on which it turns is, in part, experiential. Therein lies a conundrum. On whose experiences should we rely and on whose does and should meaning rest? [Read more…]