Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Psalm 121 ~ A Psalm of Reassurance




Click on the mountain view to hear Psalm 121 read. Some spiritual commentary follows that might spark our own reflection. These are difficult days - we need some reassurance and reason for hope.

Verse 1. We don't know who the speaker is, but we do know it's someone who feels the need for help. Maybe the psalmist has in mind an enemy who is harassing him. I might need help with some health or family problem, or help with loneliness, depression, anxieties, personal loss, addiction, anger, or feeling the inability to let it go. Name it!

And while feeling this need for help, the psalmist lifts up his/her eyes to the mountains, which is the biblical place where we meet and encounter God uniquely. We remember: Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, the Sermon on the Mount, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Olives, Mount Calvary. Looking up to the mountains and hills, the psalmist cries out for divine help. 

Some religious people go around with their heads down all the time. "You should hang your head in shame" we might have heard while growing up. "Maintain custody of the eyes" the young nun was taught. But even today at Mass, "Bow down your heads and pray for God's blessing." I don't know about that, why not look up for God's blessing, not to be nosey, but to see what God has in store for us. Perhaps a wonderful surprise!




Verse 2. My help comes from the Lord. This is a statement of great trust. We have lots of help available to us: self-help books, the doctor, the therapist, the rehab center (if needed), the concierge in the hotel lobby, the Internet, the parole officer, the teacher or principal. But when all is said and done, the psalmist declares that God is  Helper. Folks in AA know this. 

The gospel woman with the hemorrhage, Mary at the Cana-wedding, the centurion with the sick servant, Blind Bartimaeus - they all know it too. God is a helper, the God who created heaven and hearth. And God, who made each of us with care, isn't likely to forget us.

Verses 3 and 4. God won't allow our feet to be moved. There are many people who would be happy to share how God has kept them on their feet when the stresses and troubles of life wanted them down for the count. 

And that God watches, but watches like a mother with children at the beach. She wants her children safe and secure. Pope John Paul I prayed: God, you are our father, yet all the more like a mother, who wishes us no harm and has our best interests in mind. 




The psalmist continues that our prayers don't wake God up, as if God is asleep on the job. God is like the night watchman - attentive in the dark times. The psalmist even goes further, God not only doesn't sleep, but God doesn't slumber - which means God isn't even distracted, or negligent or lazy in God's attentions.

Some folks are cynical about God who they say, watches and does nothing. I'd say that sounds much more like us. We're the ones who watch and do nothing: while God's garden-paradise becomes a garbage heap, the stabilizing forests are chopped down, the cities are blown up, the children are killed, the people are starving and thirsty - and now the whole thing is out of control and it's getting too late even to  talk reasonably about how to remedy it. We needn't blame God; we're the ones who've been just watching for a very long time. Why do you think Jesus in the gospels is always saying, Stay awake! Watch!




Verses 5 and 6. God is shade which is a place of relief, recovery, safety and preservation. The desert mother-bird spreads her wings over the nestlings to keep them from being scorched. Have I ever felt that God had me covered?  

And shade at my right hand. God has me pulled in close. I'm not a strange face in the crowd. I'm not anonymous. It matters to God that I exist.

Verses 7 and 8. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil. Oh, I want this to be true. Or better yet, I want to feel and trust more the truth of this little verse. A news commentator said recently: "We live in a dangerous country." Who's packing a gun? Who's crazed or stoned while driving? The commercials want me to have the latest security system against intruders. What's in the water, the air, the food? Is it safe to get on plane, ride the subway, take a walk in a park? 

And while I hope for that safety, all the more I want to be kept safe from anything that might take me away from God - spiritual dangers: indifference, selfishness, entitlement, ingratitude, "I've got what I need; the heck with you." What AA calls, "Stinking thinking."

And finally, the Lord watching over my going out and my coming in. This is God with me in the ordinary, the hum-drum, the tedious , the routine and every day. I am never alone. "Look up and see" - that's good spiritual advice.

12 comments:

  1. I was very happy to click on the mountain picture and hear your voice again Father. Another beautiful Psalm and reflection. It brings me closer to God as I look UP towards heaven and seek his blessing. If you take a moment to pause and think, you can feel his presence. God is with us.

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  2. Yes indeed, God is with us. And for all the troubles and woes, life is still good. Blessed Sunday to you!

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  3. There is so much to these Psalms that I never realized I know what the Psalms are, but didn't know what they could mean. This is so helpful and inspiring. It is exactly how a good teacher should be.

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    1. The homily is supposed to be a reflection on the scriptural texts of the Mass, which of course includes the psalm which we pray between the readings.

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    2. That is not how the homily always is though, is it? Priests choose to talk about other things that they deem important, or pertinent to the day at hand.

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    3. I'd say the scriptures ought to be the springboard. Sermons are topical (The Ten Commandments, the articles of the creed, the sacraments, the virtues and vices, etc) and not necessarily connected to liturgical-scriptural themes.

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  4. I have read that the "Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of the Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us.” Unlike other prayers, they help us to sing the praises of God even in times of despair and adversity.

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  5. Yes, even the psalms that are angry or complaining to God end with bursts of gratitude and joy.

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  6. Any one of us could be the speaker here. We all need to feel God's presence and to sing His praises. I hope to learn about more of these Psalms and to use them to keep the evil and selfish thoughts away, and instead, to learn to trust in God and his plans for me. Amen Father! You have discovered a new way of deepening my thoughts and prayers.

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    1. "Anyone of us could be the speaker here." That's right. We're invited to find and take up our place in each psalm Or to pray it in the name of someone we know - or even those we don't know but are aware of.

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  7. "watches and does nothing?" The attitude is possible - but, as you pointed out, not helpful.

    As I see it, God gave us brains, insatiable curiosity, all the abilities we need to take reasonable care of this world and each other. After that, I figure *doing* something with these gifts makes sense.

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  8. The psalms are awesome prayers. They give me a sense of the faithfulness of God. His steadfastness in times of uncertainty. Reading them on my deck in the evening, under the beautiful colorful sky is a treat.

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