Blogging the Psalmist

“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 Contrite Heart

Spring Web

The title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s marvelous monograph declares the Psalms “The Prayer Book of the Bible.” He is not the first, nor the last, to characterize the psalter that way. Many of us find the psalms to be an enduring prayer guide because these words of man addressed to God capture feelings we often find difficult to articulate and transform them into language to which we can relate and that we can use with ease. Yes, the psalms speak of our common needs in a universal, yet personal, tongue. Thus the psalms move us into a sacred place of communion with God where divine words  — because the psalms are also the Word of God — and human speech find a perfect union of expression. [Read more…]

Finding Faith among the Foxes

North Sea Anchorage, Isle of Harris

What might foxes have to do with faith? I have been contemplating that strange question lately, and I believe the answer is “quite a bit.” All last week, no matter where I turned, it seemed that I was encountering foxes. For the most part, they were those “little foxes that spoil the vines,” as David’s son Solomon described them in verse 15 of the 2nd chapter the Song of Solomon. [Read more…]

The Heart of Covenant

Poppies in the Wild

Yesterday I chuckled when I heard myself say to my dog the same thing I would have to a disobedient child. In response to my growing exasperation that my usually compliant pup had ignored me after I had used the “come” command several times with varying levels of firmness in my voice, I phrased my next directive in the form of a frustrated question. “Did you hear me?” I implored. He did not respond any less defiantly to the question than he had to the familiar command. After the incident in which I finally got him to comply with my instruction, I’m sure he never gave it another moment of thought. But I certainly did. [Read more…]

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…]