Tag Archives: psalms


We have taken the road through the psalms of Ascent, and now we reach the end.

But it’s never really the end, is it? Because there are always places that call to us, that put our feet back on the road.

Even if where we go next is a familiar place, the road and the ascent has changed us. We aren’t really going back to who and where we were – we are walking into the wonder of a time and place that we see more clearly for having left.

Every place we call home is a temporary dwelling place; our time is limited and we move on.

But before we set out again, let’s dwell in the place that is the reason for our journey: the house of the Lord.

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord!

Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord.

May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

Psalm 134, NRSV, A Song of Ascents

Bless the Lord for all the challenges we face on our journeys – they teach us patience and give us strength.

Bless the Lord for the everything-is-falling-into-place times: we see the beauty around us more easily for them.

Bless the Lord for the work we have been given to do – we appreciate rest more because of it, and we have the chance to honor creation through it.

Bless the Lord for the journey. Bless the Lord for journey’s end. Bless the Lord. Make us a blessing. Bless.

How Very Good

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

Psalm 133, NRSV. A Song of Ascents

There isn’t much unity right now, especially in Israel and the Ukraine. It isn’t oil that’s running, it’s blood. The world is too small – and there are too many people and too many life-taking tools – for us to pretend that we are all anything but kin. We are bound together in our common breath, our common need for nourishing food, adequate clothing, sturdy shelter, and our common right for a life without violence. So how do we get to that place from this one?

My thoughts right now:

Prayer is a good place to begin – a prayer for those in harm’s way, and a prayer that those in power seek peaceful solutions. I’ll continue praying, and remembering this: prayer isn’t a good place to end.

Act in ways that foster peace and justice in my everyday life. Keep a calm, inviting home. Let go of frustration that is fruitless and petty – waiting a few extra minutes in a line, getting cut off on the traffic circle, and extending courtesy and compassion to those who cannot or will not do the same for me.

Put my resources to good use. Send aid to areas that desperately need it, not just once but for as long as it takes for the situation to improve.

Keep the to-do lists and work/social obligations reasonable; the time squeeze narrows my focus and allows me to eliminate anything beyond my own preoccupations.

That’s enough to be going on with.

God’s Resting Place

[Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002, pp.8-9]

In his book, The Spirituality of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann discusses three different kinds of psalms – psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of reorientation. The first are psalms of thanks and praise coming from a place of blessing. In Brueggemann’s words, these psalms in a variety of ways articulate the joy, delight, goodness, coherence, and reliability of God, God’s creation, and God’s governing law (p.8). The disorientation psalms are for seasons of change and instability. This kind of psalm constitutes a dismantling of the old, known world and a relinquishing of safe, reliable confidence in God’s good creation. The movement of dismantling includes a rush of negativites, including rage, resentment, guilt, shame, isolation, despair, hatred, and hostility (p,10). The reorientation psalms are songs from a community surprised by a new gift from God, a new coherence made present to us just when we thought all was lost…this move of departure to new life includes a rush of positive responses, including delight, amazement, wonder, awe, gratitude and thanksgiving (P. 11)

Songs of Ascent are sung on the road to Jerusalem, approaching the center of the Jewish faith – God’s holy temple. Psalm 132 is a song affirming God’s presence among the people – God’s in his temple, all’s right in the world. But I think it can be understood and sung from two very different places of understanding.

The first, an orientation psalm: of course God is with us – that’s the way things are.

The second, a reorientation psalm: God is with us! – it could have been otherwise…

O Lord, remember in David’s favor all the hardships he endured; how he swore to the Lord and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, “I will not enter my house or get into my bed;

I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Israel.”

We heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar. “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool.”

Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your faithful shout for joy. For your servant David’s sake do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and my decrees that I shall teach them, their sons also, forevermore, shall sit on your throne.”

For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation; “This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.

I will abundantly bless its provisions; I will satisfy its poor with bread. Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy.

There will I cause a horn to sprout up for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one. His enemies I will clothe with disgrace, but on him, his crown will gleam.”

Psalm 132, a Song of Ascent, NRSV

The Starting Place

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131, NRSV. A Song of Ascents. Of David? [Some scholars believe this psalm was written by a woman, regardless of its being attributed to David. I don’t think it matters much, but the imagery is definitely feminine – God as mother, human soul as child.]

I hadn’t really given much thought to the image of the soul as a weaned child, one already moving toward adulthood and able to survive without a mother’s milk. It isn’t hunger for food that moves this child to seek its mother; it’s the desire to return to the source of life, and the recognition that life begins and is sustained by the loving presence of another. None of us are self-created. That simple truth can be accepted and celebrated, or it can be denied as a weakness. If denied, the truth of our very existence is lost, and we will seek in vain to replace it with all manner of complex knowledge and difficult tasks – all of which will have no foundation or ability to ground us in what is true and real.

There’s no shame in being still in the presence of the one who brought us into life. It’s the one place in the universe that offers a glimpse of who we are, and how very much we are loved. This and no other is the starting place of wisdom.


Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Ps. 130:1

The children lit the vigil candles. The cantor sang a wordless song simple enough for even those of us unfamiliar with the melody to join in.

Lamentations biblical and spontaneous were lifted to God. Prayers of hope and safety chanted in Hebrew joined them. People stood and named friends and family members in Israel; some accounted for, some lost, some who died violently.

My husband and I added our prayers and presence, part of the gathering at the synagogue last night. For our neighbors, Alison and Michael, for their family, and for all whose lives will be forever changed because of hatred and the desperation of the soul that generates it.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!

One of Two

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. Psalm 130, NRSV A Song of Ascents.

In one of her books, Anne Lamott wrote that her prayers boiled down to two things: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! and Help me! Help me! Help me! The psalm above is one of the latter.

When we are in deep, dark places, we realize what true power is: the power to lift us from our darkest night into the light of dawn. The power of God isn’t annihilation, but restoration. Neither the darkness around us nor the darkness within us can keep our cries from reaching God; neither is perpetual, and the power of God frees us from both. We cannot save ourselves, but we are not forever lost. Steadfast love redeems even our sorry selves. Then, it’s time for the Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! prayer.

Art by Margaret Hill


Often have they attacked me from my youth” – Let Israel now say – “Often have they attacked me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.

The Plowers plowed on my back; they made their furrows long.”

The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked;

May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward.

Let them be like the grass on the housetops that withers before it grows up, with which the reapers do not fill their hands or binders of sheaves their arms, while those who pass by do not say,

“The Blessing of the Lord be upon you! We bless you in the name of the Lord!”

Psalm 129, NRSV, A Song of Ascents

How do you deal with people who do you wrong? Who hurt you, not just as an individual but as part of a community? I know I’m supposed to bless those who curse me and work for the good of those who would harm me – it’s what a life of compassion looks like. But it’s damn difficult to do.

One of the gifts of the psalms is the voicing of the whole range of emotions – happiness, joy, sadness, despair, anger, and vindictiveness are all in there. They are songs and poems of honesty, which means they are as mean spirited as they are forgiving or blessing.

Sometimes, we need to give voice to the awful feelings that gather like stones in our hearts; we need to be honest with ourselves about our feelings – even the mean and vengeful ones. It’s the first step in letting them go, in releasing them rather than coveting them like the diamonds and pearls they are not. Once we say the curses we feel, we can release the weight of them vocally rather than with fists and knives. Free of that burden, we might have enough room in our hearts to wish for the good of our enemies.

[Warning: Once said, such things need to be given up. If we hang onto them after voicing them, they will only get bigger…]

The Home Team

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.

You shall eat of the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.

Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

Psalm 128, NRSV

The last few verses of this psalm move us from our own immediate kin to the larger community of faith. It’s a benediction of sorts, asking that we are blessed within a much larger blessing all who find their soul’s home in Jerusalem – in honoring the God of Abraham and Sarah.

May you live a long and blessed life – one that includes seeing your grandchildren. May you live in a time when your whole nation lives in peace – and wealth enough to sustain everyone.

In some ways, it’s the same thing that we pray at night: bless those we love, thanks for what we have, bless this nation and everyone in it. There’s nothing wrong with these prayers; they keep us mindful of our families, our friends, and our nearby neighbors – the home team. But there’s an important element that isn’t spoken in this psalm, but is foundational to the Jewish faith: they are blessed to be a blessing to the entire world, to send their love beyond their own people. If we forget this last part, we run the risk of seeking our own good at the expense of those beyond our own particular time and place.

If we forget this last part, we just might forget that God’s love includes everyone – even and especially those we don’t know.


Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.

You shall eat of the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.

Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. Psalm 128:1-4, NRSV A Song of Ascents

Granted, this is from the gentleman’s perspective – wife and children the elements of his family. Looking at these four verses, you could say something like this: do what is right and work hard, and you will be blessed with a good wife and multiple children…and others will call you blessed when they see this. Most of us know that a blessed life doesn’t always look like this. It’s a limited perspective, but not a bad one.

It’s easy enough to expand on this, to see something more behind and through the words than the man. Fruitfulness doesn’t have to be about having children, but about living a beautiful life that honors God, self, and neighbor – and having this valued and respected by one’s beloved. Growing children don’t necessarily have to be biologically related; providing a safe, welcoming, loving place to grow can be for any number of young ones and can take on many different forms.

If I take time to fall through the words instead of getting stopped by their particularity, I’ll find a blessing rather than an impediment.


Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

Psalm 128:1-2, NRSV

This is a good psalm for understanding what it means to fear God: if everyone who fears God is happy, then fear is not terror and God is not a wrathful being just waiting for an excuse to rain fire down upon the unfortunate soul who makes a mistake. I think fear is closer to awestruck; the presence of God is so overwhelming and all-encompassing that we find ourselves in way over our heads. Instead of being scared to death, we are scared to life – not a comfortable feeling, but an amazing one.

This is also a good psalm for understanding what happens when we walk in God’s ways. Showing compassion for those in need, being honest in our dealings with others, refusing to become so jealous of others that we lose all sense of joy and peace – these actions make us happy. No amount of wealth gained by illicit or immoral means can do that.

And what about eating the fruit of the labor of our own hands? Earning our living by working at something rather than being given money without the work points to a reality that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes: there is dignity, honor, and satisfaction in labor.

It’s something most of us know on a deep level, these truths about what makes life good. It’s ironic that the cultural ideal of a no-work self-centered life that promises carefree happiness is a sure way to an unhappy life…