Over the last few days, we have listened together to Psalm 72, verses 1-7 and 18-19, the Advent psalm appointed for the liturgy of worship for this second Sunday in Advent. Below are links to two translations (the more formal and poetic New Revised Standard Version and the easier to read Common English Bible) and one paraphrase, written in every day language (The Message). Denominations across the world who use the Revised Common Lectionary to select their scripture passages will be reciting or hearing this same ancient psalm, written for and about kings who lived long, long ago, yet a psalm that still speaks with relevance to us.
I have shared the words or phrases I have heard. Today, I take Sabbath to sit with my reflections, while also wondering what you have heard? What word or phrase has invited you, guided you, spoken to you, or surprised or bothered you? What might the universal Spirit be saying to you in this season of seeking? I would be honored to know.
You are invited to light a candle and join me on this journey of reflecting on the psalms chosen for the Season of Advent, most recently Psalm 72, found here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2072&version=NRSVUE. A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I am not a scholar of the psalms. I simply chose them as something to explore in this season of expectation and waiting. I appreciated very much what a fellow blogger posted: “I actually love that you are not a scholar of the Psalms. The vast majority of us are not. Your thoughts and reflections remind me that the Psalms are for me, just ordinary, not scholarly me” (Visit her blog on spirituality: Living on Life’s Labyrinth). Yes, the psalms are exactly for “ordinary” us.
The Book of Psalms comes in all shades of color: the red of anger, the black of despair, the purple of royalty, the blue of joy, the gray of seeking, the gold of thanksgiving. No emotion is “inappropriate” for this book of holy poetic scripture. No emotion is too bad to lift before God. Psalms speaks to the totality of human emotions, those we label both good and bad, that make us who we are: ordinary people.
My approach to these psalms has been to use the ancient spiritual practice of “lectio divina,” which means “sacred reading.” Instead of reading a piece of text for information, lectio divina (which is NOT bible study) invites us to read it for transformation, which is quite a significant difference. We don’t rush through it. Information feeds the head; transformation touches the heart. The purpose of lectio is to allow time for a word or phrase to catch our attention or touch a deep part of us and so become a guide and/or an invitation as we walk our journeys. Lectio is similar to hearing that still, small voice of God, Being, Universe whisper personally to us.
So, I do not attempt to explain what the psalms are about or figure out who wrote them. I do not research much, if anything, about each individual psalm other than what the footnotes may offer me. What I do, instead, is to respect each psalm as the ancient piece of wisdom literature that it is. I listen to the voice of the writer for the ancient, and yet still universal, wisdom that is shared. I read slowly, paying attention to each word until a word or phrase tugs me back, invites me in. Then, I meditate on it, trying (not always succeeding) to open my heart to the Light and to Love and to what the Spirit may be saying or how the Spirit may be nudging.
All of this is to say that what I hear, you may not hear. (Please see my last couple of posts as examples.) How I interpret the message may be completely different from your interpretation. I am neither right nor wrong, and neither are you. My hope is that when I share my ponderings, I do so universally, in a way that speaks to ordinary people, like me, no matter who they are, who they worship, or where they are on their spiritual journeys. In this season where so many spiritual traditions are seeking the Light, I pray that these psalms are flickers along the way.
Blessings ~ Rosemary
How the Psalms Came to Be
Imagine dozens, hundreds, thousands, no, millions of people all people different people ordinary people standing under the sky cobalt and immense above them. In their hands, all their hands, see birds of color: the hot red of fiery anger the still blue of deep joy. the heavy black of aching grief the harvest gold of sincere gratitude the pale sage of silent solitude the ash gray of ceaseless longing. Myriads and multitudes of colored birds are tethered to wrists, birds nodding, fluttering sleeping, restless contained, straining when a whisper of Spirit, a word on a wind, invites release and the hundreds and thousands and millions of tethered birds, (mine, too, and yours) are cut loose to fling their colors up into the open and immense sky writing a rainbow above the people while a voice blesses from the heavens, “I receive it all.”
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. . . . In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
Though justice is repeated twice, the word that resonates with me is righteousness, repeated four times. The Hebrew word is synonymous with honesty, justice, righteous acts, righteous deeds, and vindication. This psalm, possibly prayed publicly when King Solomon ascended the throne of Israel (970 to 931 BCE) after his father, King David’s, death, became a prayer for all future monarchs of Israel.
The Franciscan priest, theologian, and contemplative author, Father Richard Rohr, writes in his book, The Universal Christ, “There is no such thing as a nonpolitical Christianity.”* How I know that to be true. I have walked the tightrope in preaching, discovering how quoting the scriptural words of God and Jesus Christ in a sermon has led to the accusation of being “political” or of “meddling.” I will save further discussion of Rohr’s statement for another time, other than to say that this particular Advent psalm, 72, is apolitical prayer. This psalm doesn’t claim that “might makes right” but that “right makes might.” It is a prayer for a king, a president, a senator, a messiah, a prime minister, to practice righteousness, for the welfare of all the people, including the poor, and to establish peace, “until the moon is no more.” When did any of us last hear such a prayer for any leader? Or even pray one?
Righteousness is the quality of being morally correct and justifiable. It is an attribute of kingship found in Middle Eastern religions and Abrahamic traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. A righteous person implies that the person has been judged as leading a life that is pleasing to God. Leading a life that is pleasing to God. Isn’t that an attribute we long for in our leaders, no matter what name we use for God? I wonder why so many of us, then, so easily dismiss it.
I admit that I am not very familiar with this psalm, nor am I a scholar of the psalms. But in this Advent Season of 2022, in a world affected by unjust wars and political division where so many leaders lack any semblance of righteousness, where the poor the world over remain poor, where actions toward peace and justice seem less important than who wins what, this psalm calls me to pray for all leaders, everywhere, to be the kind of king prayed for in this psalm. It also reminds me to be careful about what leaders I follow and who I support. If they are not “righteous,” then how faithfully am I living?
Blessings ~ Rosemary
*Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ, Convergent Books, 2019