Archive for the ‘The Psalms’ category

Psalm 8: “What is Man”

October 20, 2008

Some of the most powerful writing is expressed in the fewest words, and Psalm 8 is no exception. The last time I wrote about one of the psalms was in February 2007. I’ve been prompted to take up that thread again, in no particular order. The psalm appears in quotes, my commentary in parentheses.

“Oh Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
(Whatever name we use to identify that which is beyond us—creator, universe, source, god,–the sheer wonder we experience when contemplating the vastness, infinity, and power of such a one as that is almost impossible to set down in words. This sentence, with the exclamation point that couldn’t wait until the end, is as good an attempt as any.)

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”
(“Enemies” and “avengers” aren’t always necessarily people. Events, illness, circumstances,–we can even be enemies to ourselves if we keep ourselves from making choices, or purposely choose ways for ourselves that we know lead in a direction opposite of where we are supposed to be going. As for “babes” and “sucklings,” these are the people, events or circumstances that, though they seem simple on the surface, have a profound effect on our lives. We can never tell where inspiration or direction will come from, or who will be the messenger. If we approach everyone with the openness to accept what they have to give us as lessons, then we are always prepared to receive, even if the lesson takes a lifetime to absorb and put into practice.)

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?”
(As if “the work of thy fingers” wasn’t enough to send chills running up and down my spine—consider that phrase next time you stand and watch an eclipse or any other astronomical event that’s not as “ordinary” as the rising and setting of the sun—“What is man, that thou are mindful of him?” … the idea that the creator of the universe holds each of is in mind leaves me speechless. I once heard a choral setting of this psalm, with very close harmonies for this particular verse. I can’t remember who composed it or who sang it or even the specific notes. But the effect of hearing those men’s voices, echoing in some hall somewhere but, even more, continuing to echo in my own mind, is one of the most profound musical events I have ever experienced. I will never forget it to my dying day.)

“For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”
(This verse always makes me think about the power of reason and choice we have been given, as well as the great abilities of expression—language, art, science, philosophy,–that set us apart from other animals. With those gifts, though, come the responsibilities of using them in ways that are constructive and reflect the compassion and wisdom of the universe.)

“Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”
(This is just an extension of the previous verse and puts specific expression to it, mentioning the animals of earth, water and air. From the great whales to the tiny hummingbirds, even if we can’t see a use for a particular creature, it has its place, and we must honor it and preserve it as best we can.)

“O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”
(There are nine verses in the psalm (three times three), and it ends as it began. So much of creation is circular and spiral—galaxies and orbits, planets and stars, cells and atoms. How fitting that this expression of wonder should be a circle, too. That wonder, whether it’s at the forefront of our minds or carried as an underlying principle, should be with us always.)


Psalm 23:A Psalm for Life

February 28, 2007

Daily Automagical posting by Ted
Halfnotes will be back on March 5th. She will reply to all the comments then.
Thank you!


The 23rd Psalm is often read at funerals, and most people associate it with death. But if we only see it in a context of loss and bereavement, we’re missing the lessons the passage can teach us on a daily basis. The psalm is printed in quotes, my commentary in parentheses.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (The Creator of the universe has dominion over everything, and yet … God takes interest and compassion in me. How could I possibly want anything more?)

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (God is a resting place for my spirit when I can’t find peace anywhere else. The still waters are there to bring me into self-reflection so I can grow.)

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.” (The path of my life may have many twists and turns, but its direction is always toward higher things. As reflections and expressions of God in the human form and among our fellow human beings, we can choose our way, and our choices are a visible manifestation of our spirits.)

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (The shadow of death is not death itself, but the foreboding and feelings of uneasiness and distress that can creep up on us whenever life becomes difficult or uncertain. Even then, regardless of who is with us physically, God is always there. Even if I do not feel as if this is true, God can’t be everywhere in the universe and not with and within me.)

“thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (I don’t think enemies is necessarily referring to people. I think that many of our enemies come from within ourselves. But even with all of these, the anointing signifies that we are precious to God. It was a ritual performed for kings, for priests, and for the sick, and we can be any or all of these at any given moment. The cup running over shows that God’s love and care for us has no limits. Nothing can contain it, and we will forever be surprised by it.)

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Nothing can separate us from God or God’s love. Goodness and mercy are certainly things I would enjoy receiving, but I think here, rather than calling them down as blessings, we are reminded that we are the instruments of goodness and mercy in the world, and if we provide these things with gladness to others, then they will never be far from us as shown or given to us by someone else.)