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 Heart of Blessing (Part Three)

Just South of Inverness

In my initial post on Psalm 103, I designated this third of the four alls, or sections, that comprise the poem as the “contextual” one. While that may be accurate in terms of the literary purpose it serves, the terminology falls extraordinarily short of capturing the essence of verses 6 through 19. This portion of the psalm truly centers on the heart of blessing — that is, on the manner in which God interacts in unique covenant relationship with David and with all of His people. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part Two)

What I Find, What I Keep

In this Part Two of the Heart of Blessing we begin looking at the second of the alls Psalm 103 presents, namely the all of the character and nature of the God of Israel. Surely David understood as well as any man that no language can fully convey what the human mind can only partially perceive. He also seemed to realize that the various formal aspects of poetry could provide him the best tool through which to intertwine verbal expression with nonverbal or spiritual thought, so he drew on that skill in the intricate crafting of this psalm. Within that framework, we now begin to look for the heart of this praise song by mining the mother lode of verses two through five. [Read more…]

The Heart of Blessing (Part One)

Psalm 103 is surely one of the most familiar of all the psalms and its opening line often quoted or adapted in prayer, sermon and song. The majority of the standard English texts over the centuries– from the King James to the recent English Standard Version and numerous others as well– render its opening line with exactly the same words:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and everything that is within me, bless His Holy name.”  I have loved that verse (Ps 103:1a) for as long as I can remember knowing it. But my study of the holy poem in its original Hebrew has opened my appreciation to scholar Robert Alter’s translation of those critical first words: “Bless, O my being, the Lord, and everything in me, His holy name.” [Read more…]

The Ascending Heart

Light Bathes the Outer Banks

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning,” (Ps 130:5-6) wrote the unidentified psalmist of the eleventh Psalm of Ascent. The lack of ascription of this psalm to a particular poet seems to enhance the universality of its application. It removes the necessity or temptation to confine it to a particular place, time, set of circumstances or person. The speaker could be you, or me, or even David. The anonymity gives the poem and this verse of it a power and possession that each of us can take as our own hope and petition. [Read more…]

The Quiet Heart

Guatemalan Lake

One of the psalms that I see most often quoted (other than the 23rd, of course) and that I hear referred to as a favorite is Psalm 46, a song attributed to the Sons of Korah. It begins “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” and then moves to the line that I personally find the most compelling: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). What exactly does being still before God mean? Surely it refers to more than a state of physical inactivity. More important, how do we achieve that stillness, especially in the hyper-charged age in which we live? I believe– and think the psalmist David for whom the Sons of Korah worked as temple musicians and choristers and worship leaders, would agree– that our stillness must be preceded and accompanied by silence. [Read more…]

The Shepherd’s Heart

The beauty of the psalms, like most great poetry, resides in its independent meaning. That is, the poems can and do speak to us whether or not we know the context in which they were written or anything about the poet who composed them. Now I suspect that some of you, who read last week’s post, are scratching your heads. “Hold on,” you must be saying, “this seems to contradict what you wrote last week. Wasn’t the emphasis on looking at the work in an historical and situational context.” [Read more…]

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…]