“And she shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth her fruit in her season; her leaf shall not wither; and whatsoever she doeth shall prosper.” —Psalm 1:3, King James Version, with liberties taken on the pronouns
Frequently I have turned my seeking heart to the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible, and even more often they have arisen unbidden into my mind. In my first silent meeting for worship among Friends, the first line from Psalm 42 came to me: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” Since that first meeting for worship, the line often has come to me as I settle into the silence. (Usually, except for gender exclusion, I like the KJV. I find some of the modern translations such the poetic energy out of the Psalms. However, to say my soul “panteth,” as the KJV would, doesn’t work for me. Thirsts, definitely; panteth, no.)
After reading Kathleen Norris’s wonderful book The Cloister Walk, I became convinced that at some point each of the Psalms might have something to offer me. Her book explores her time as an oblate (lay practitioner) with a Benedictine order that follows the practice of daily psalm singing. On any given day, who knows which psalm will be chosen. Maybe you are feeling spiritually dry, and the psalmist’s praise makes no sense; maybe you are feeling joyful, and the psalmist’s anger rubs you the wrong way. In the analysis of Kathleen Norris, and in my own subsequent reading, the range of human emotion in the psalms becomes startling.
I have favorite psalms that I turn to over and over, but I hold out hope that others might speak to me one day. My initial challenge with the language of the psalms was the many references to battles and destroying enemies.
Truly I want to love my enemies, and to transform the “enemies” within that are my obstacles to living up to my faith. For me, these enemies are my anger that gets in the way of gentle speech, my impatience that gets in the way of waiting and discerning. There are other places in the Hebrew Bible where battles are against injustice. But in the Psalms, the battles seem to be about those things that keep one at a distance from God.
The very first psalm, after lifting up hope that those who delight in God will prosper (as cited at the opening of this post), goes on to say that “the way of the ungodly shall perish.” Could this be suggesting that by delighting in God, delighting in following the requirements of my faith to the best of my ability, those inner obstacles will in fact be transformed?