Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Psalm 139 ~ A Personal Psalm




Psalms are the sung  poem-prayers of ancient Israel. Most of them were composed and used for communal worship, but some, like Psalm 139 are very personal to each of us. Click on the photo above to listen as I read the Psalm. Some reflections follow here.

Verse 1. God knows me in the details of my life...even my thoughts...not to catch me out like a spy or to make me blush, but that my existence matters to God. God is interested in how I'm doing, much as a good parent would a child who's perhaps been away from home for a time: "What have you been up to?" "What have you been thinking these days?" Some of us were taught that God is an irritable and suspicious super spy. It isn't like that at all.

Verse 2. God knows my life is a journey where I stop along the way because the trudging is often difficult and tiresome. God is acquainted with my ways: my strengths and weaknesses, my shortcomings and gifts - everything that characterizes me in and out.

Verse 3. God knows the words that come from my lips before I speak them. I'm thinking of the little cross we draw on our lips before the Gospel at Mass: That I would speak the words of Christ. We live in talkative times. There's little silence. A priest from Ukraine said, "Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided." 

Verse 4. "You lay your hand upon me." I'm always within God's reach. God's gesture seems to say, "This is one is mine." What a lovely thought - God doesn't just have an eye on me, but a hand.

Verse 5. This knowledge is wonderful. I can't comprehend it, but we might try. We know so much about diets, TV shows, movies, politics, games, sports, where to find the best places to eat or shop, but so little knowledge of how God is with each of us.

Verse 6. "Where can I go from your spirit?" Sometimes we try to hide from God. Remember in school, hiding behind another student, to avoid being called on by the teacher? I wonder if we're afraid God will call on us. What might God ask? Maybe God would ask me to be better informed about what's going on in God's world? Or God might ask me to do something for someone else, something I'd rather not have to do?

Verse 7. "If I go up to the heavens, you're there. If I go down to the grave, you're there." God keeps popping up. Sometimes it's very inconvenient. We might prefer to keep God confined to the the one hour (or less) of weekend Mass or keep God confined to the tabernacle or the time it takes to go around a rosary. Can God appear on the television screen during the news?

Verses 8 and 9. "Wings of the morning" - going off to the farthest east, where the dawn of each new day begins for me. God will lead me and keep a hand on me in the far and wide of my life. Can you name that for your own life? Indeed, God holds me the way the Mother of God holds the Divine Child in the icon. 




Verses 10 and 11. ""Surely the darkness will cover me." But for many people the darkness is interior: the inner darkness of depression, the dark cynical attitude, the dark view of other people, the dark view of the future. Christianity is all about light. The Christopher motto is: "Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Is it possible to discover God even in the inner darkness?

Verses 12 through 14. These are splendid lines telling of how we are made. What amazing cameras now take photographs of the baby's development in the womb: the teeth are formed as little buds, how the child's face takes shape, even the appearance of finger prints. We watch not only the physical individuation but when the baby begins responding to sounds outside the mother's body. 




I was on the New York City subways a lot in the 1970's when the metal wheels of the train against the metal track made the most god-awful sound. I remember seeing a young pregnant woman standing on the platform and when the screeching train approached the station she took the sides of her open overcoat and folded them across herself and her arms to hold the coat in place so to protect her developing child from the unnerving sound. She seemed to know how marvelously we are made.

And I must remember that we are all marvelously made - not just the people I like, or who are like me, or who believe the things we believe.




Verse 15: God has my development in his book. This isn't a list of my good deeds on one side of the page and my sins on the other - ready to whip out on judgment day, so God can decide whether to admit me to heaven or punish me. This is naive. Maybe the book is God's mind, delighting in you (me) in our individuality and the uniqueness for which God created each of us. "You are one of God's thoughts; you are one of God's heartbeats," Pope John Paul II told a group of students while visiting a very gray part of the world.

We need to remember this - God delighting in us! A lot of  people hate themselves because someone has told them they're not acceptable: your color, nationality, legal status, sexual orientation, religion, family history, athletic ability, physical beauty, sexy-ness, intelligence - is wrong!

Verse 16. Here the psalmist pays God a compliment: "Your thoughts are great, God." This is why in an icon, Christ's head is large (especially the forehead) - because it is filled with divine thoughts.




"What imagination created the trillion, trillion galaxies?" the astronomer asked his colleagues. And what imagination created the nearly 18,000 different species of birds, each with its own structure and color, voice, nest type, egg design, habits and habitat. What imagination created "that"?

I never want to tire of these things - our minds so drawn to and filled with worrisome things, foolish things, petty, angry, resentful, obsessive things. I want my mind filled with the imagination of God, the loveliness of God, the attentive care of God.

And the final verses 22,23. "Search me out...know my heart...look well...lead me." We invite God into the interior place of our hearts from where (biblically speaking) our thoughts originate. Is the door wide open? "Search...know...look...lead me in ways everlasting."  And for the Christian these words, "in the way that is everlasting," are the way of Christ-love. Father Alexander Men wonders aloud: Is it possible when I am going up an escalator or walking along the subway platform, do I look at and love all the people I see coming from the opposite direction? The "opposite" direction? Get it?

22 comments:

  1. This is such a wonderful way to help people understand the psalms. Suddenly I realized that they all have a meanimg beyond the words on a page. You should start a series called Spark Notes for Psalms.

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    1. Oh I do like that! I'm always looking for a new idea. Did it help or distract to have the psalm read instead of printing it out? What do you think? "Spark Notes for Psalms" - yes!

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    2. I liked being able to listen to the psalm. Your voice brought the words to life for me more than any written words on a page could do. I hope others thought the same thing. Thank you for your response. It made the psalm even more personal.

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    3. Very good! A new idea that I will run off with! I've already picked the next ten psalms that I'll start thinking about. Thanks for your shared thoughts.

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  2. I would like to do God's will, if only I could hear his call more clearly. I am taking in your reflections here and they make so much sense to me. I might hide from God at times, as ridiculous as that seems now. I invite God into my heart and ask to be lead. Show me God! Show me!

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    1. This is called humility. It is very rare these days. Or docility might be another word to describe what you've got going here. Docility comes from the Latin word docere - to teach. A docile person is teach-able. And God won't disappoint you.

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  3. My family enjoyed this very much. We all took something from it as I encourage my kids to read the Bible once in a while and try to discern some meaning from it. It is especially difficult to bring the words to life for young people, but you often manage to do just that for them. I found this to be like attending a prayer service. Now I have a voice behind the words. Thank you!

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    1. You've referenced your family before. I love that the posts find their way into the life of a family - that there is a resonance with young people. I'll keep that in mind - that your kids are listening and looking. And I thank YOU! Blessed Sunday!

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  4. Very good Father Stephen. I love this new concept of hearing your voice and reading your reflections. You are filled with marvelous ideas. You have a gift for connecting us to God.

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    1. This was a kind of test drive - to see if the reading could help. Good results so far. And no one likes the sound of his/her voice on tape, so I thought, "Oh Stephen, get over your self." It seems to me that a priest's spiritual life should not ultimately be for himself alone but the people he serves ought to benefit from it. I feel that.

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  5. Good thoughts, I think. And thank you for the Pope John Paul II reference. I think I found it (slightly different translation, same ideas): https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2001/september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010923_kazakhstan-astana-youth.html Pastoral Visit in Kazakhstan: Youth meeting - Aula Magna of the Eurasia University, Astana, (Kazakhstan) (September 23, 2001)

    Thank you for the 'walk-through' of this part of Psalms.

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    1. I'll check out the pope's talks during the Kazakhstan Youth Meeting. Thanks for directing me there.

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  6. I think this is a great idea for you to speak to us. You have been known for your great sermons. Its more comforting to listen than to read for me. Its makes me more conscious of what you are saying.

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  7. Isn't it wonderful when technology makes this kind of connecting possible.

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    1. It's so good to hear your voice...it's so familiar. This is beautiful. Deepest Gratitude

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    2. I'm pleased. I enjoyed the little techno-challenge and am grateful for the idea. I read something that made a reference to psalm 139 - looked it up, was reminded of how beautiful it is and off we went.

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  8. I am in awe of how much I can get out of a Psalm when you add your reflections for us. I am glad that you took on this techno challenge as you stated above. It brings a whole new dimension to your work. I like knowing what someone sounds like so that when I read their words, I can put a voice to them. Just like a picture puts a face to a name.

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  9. I can't say why it took me so long to come to this - only that everything happens in its own time. God sees to it.

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  10. I love the idea of 'SparkNotes' for the psalms. Honestly, I usually have a hard time reading the psalms because I just don't 'get' what they are saying. I really liked listening to the psalm being red and looking at a beautiful picture. And then, having it all explained to me in words/concepts I understood/can relate to, was a great gift. Similiar to how I really liked the Lenten painting study that you did...I got a lot more out of the paintings after reading what they meant, than if I just looked at the picture myself. Thanks for all you do!! Have a great day!

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    1. You have a great day too! Someone wrote-in suggesting "Spark Notes" as an idea. A very good one, I'd say. "Spark" means to get something going - not saying it all but igniting reflection and understanding.

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  11. I found this on the Evangelist website and I see you did another Psalm today. Wonderful work here Father. I'll be returning to your blog for more inspiration. Thank you for sharing.

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  12. Welcome! Welcome! I'm glad you've found the blog.

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