Psalm 148

The last five psalms have in common that they all start with “hallelujah” – praise the Lord. Bang bang bang bang bang, like the big finish to a fireworks display.

This is a big fun communal song about everything praising God. First half the heavens, second half the earth.

Each half ends in a “why?”

For the heavens, angels, heavenly powers, sun moon stars etc, they praise God because his decrees are eternal. From them we learn of a bigger, longer reality than our own. We get the mind-blowing physical and temporal scale of God.

The “why” at the end of it all is a bit circular. We on earth praise God because though he’s above everything there is, we are dear to him, and the connection grows stronger through our praise.

So we praise him because praise strengthens our praise. It’s a pop song, ok? You got a problem with that?

The overall effect played in my mind a bit like when you use Google Earth and start in space, zooming in on the ball of earth, past all the vast seas, wild places and daunting features of creation down down, past kingdoms, cities and villages right down to you.

And the God view and the micro view are connected and strengthened because he hears our praise.

It’s a happy vision to start the week.

I’m looking forward to working on soldiership materials (ie: the training course you take to become a salvation army soldier) and some of the notes for self denial, which is a charity appeal within the membership, not a public appeal. Goodness me, I’m deep in the weeds these days! But they will be enjoyable projects.

It’s the last week of Kelly’s internship, she’s worked two days a week in an architect office for five weeks, and we’ve really loved meeting after work and catching up. Highlight of the week. Which I will partcularly treasure as the last one. And also as she enters her last semester, it’s a positive glimpse of possibilities post graduation, which can be scary too.

There are some constructive opportunities at church too, going to have a chat with the Minister about music, is one of them.

Some things to praise God for, you know, and the heavens and the world broadly too. Lots of challenges as well.

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Psalm 145

I think i recall from a talk about psalms that it ends in a blaze of praise. This psalm fits with that theory. It’s everything king David loves about God.

I’m enjoying that they are all by David at the moment, because we know him so well.

He says how God is too much for any one person to understand, he places himself in a generation to generation project to think about and share about God. You see that in all cultures. Unfortunately our inclination towards sin corrupts what we can learn by ourselves from the degrees of God’s revelation.

At church we celebrated the coming of the light to islands in the Torres Strait. When missionaries arrived, they instantly recognised the gospel as filling out their understanding of the God they had always worshipped. And they saw clearly in a way they hadn’t before that they should leave headhunting and violence behind.

Israel struggled with the idea that God’s plan for all mankind may not literally include the temple and Jerusalem.

Having talked about how much greater god is than we can comprehend, David lists what he does know of God in the second half of the psalm.

God is good, compassionate, patient, generous, eternal, faithful, mighty trustworthy, loving, caring, close, sustaining, just, righteous, a rescuer, a provider, a listener, a saviour.

The pile up leaves me a bit unemotional to read. But to gather and sing this, it would take flight. Praise is best done in groups of two or more. Praise is a triangular process, with the praisers along one side of it, all pointing to a shared third point.

Ah the corruption of man… My mind drifts to a logo design for my long imagined, never realised, praise band.

Don’t forget to pray.

Psalm 126

Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

A song trusting God’s blessing. A great way to start the week. They recall the joy when they came back from captivity – the return from exile in Babylon – it was like a dream.

Now they are asking God, surely, he will restore their fortunes again. The verse quoted above is the last in the psalm.

But I just finished re-reading the prophets from the end of the old testament, speaking to that rebuilt Jerusalem. It was a much more pessimistic place. In Malachi, the last OT book, God says ”You have wearied the Lord with your words.

Of course, Jesus would be the harvest, and the prophets’ glimpses of long term blessing, often just barely slipped into the dying verses of otherwise bleak books, was the seed.

And now? We have Jesus… Unalloyed joy, yes? I am stressed going into the week, just with silly stuff. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, just the usual.

My work, as worthy as it is, still involves unpleasant deadlines and me having to battle my ego and make comprises I’m not happy with.

I suppose the old song “we shall some rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves” is drawn from this psalm.

I’m not feeling it, but it is a promise and my hope, I’ll make it my prayer today. I mean I’m not even weeping really, just a bit glum. I’ll try to spend my time sowing seed.

Song of Songs 2

Won’t be able to do this one justice, so many beautiful familiar images, so many keepers.

Two basic metaphors through the chapter.

A banquet under the banner of love. Together in a close embrace, abundant and frank natural imagery: she’s lilies, he’s an apple tree. Deliciousness, intimacy, joy, love, feasting. Time stands still, the moment is suspended together.

Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.

Then running: he’s bounding over the hills to reach her, her lover coming to waken her, at her window all urgency because… just because winter is over and spring has come. Because there is nowhere to be in the world but with each other running though nature like stags and gazelles.

He asking her to catch the little foxes that may ruin the vineyard, just as she probably literally did. More running. This time chasing away anything that could threaten their vineyard of love.

Two contrasting metaphors: stillness and urgency, it reminds me of a stream with pools and glistening rills.

Then I think of the songs I’ve sung from this: “he bought me into his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love… My beloved is mine and I am his…” Singing it in Sunday school! How dare they!

It is a picture of perfect love, an unsustainable dream of love. It’s a love that is actually dangerous in this world… The girl warns us not to stir up love like this before we are ready. The connection of joyous physical intimacy and complete trust is the ideal of romantic love. It takes people to divine places.

But you can’t fake that, and being addicted to the divine, trying to wring it out of imperfect relationships is more than they can bare. It’s a dream that has shipwrecked countless lives. Looking for love in all the wrong places, as the song goes.

Your can’t make your partner God, no one is that great. If it is to last you learn to live with their flaws. So this uber song, song of songs, puts you in a frame of mind that the holy spirit exists to answer: being able to imagine more perfect love, but being unable to attain it.

Which is how the writers of that Sunday school song about dream sex dared.

Song of Songs 1

A supercut of us.

I’ve had a week off. Haven’t quite been able to face this book, though in abstract I’ve been looking forward to it.

I’m feeling somewhat burdened, old and unromantic, so the celebration of passionate young love is a poignant contrast to my mood. A little intimidating, to be honest.

I gather the book has no discernable structure. But neither does love, in the moment. I like Lorde’s song “supercut” for that, “in my mind, I see a supercut of us”. The highlights of love are recalled as a montage of flashing glory. If you edit out narratives of pain, boredom.

Chapter one sets the tone of focusing on the moments of delight, yearning and passion. It’s wild and uninhibited.

It has dialogue like a play: he, she and friends, but there is not debate, all are goading each other headlong towards an affair. The banter is rhetorical: why would you waste a passion such as this on timidity?

It seems like first love, but the girl is not a glashouse flower. She’s been a responsible family workhorse, tanned from the sun from tending the vineyards. It’s set up as a metaphor, now is time to tend her own vineyard, her time to harvest her own pleasure. A bit of ‘me’ time.

She is the pursuer, getting advice from the chorus of friends where to find her love. And she’s successful, if I understand the phrase “our bed is verdant” correctly.

Though could also be literal vegetation as well and the bed a metaphor, since it ends with the cedars and fir trees being their room.

God, apparently, will barely get a look in, by name. But the context, the Bible, forces it to be about the spirituality of passion and attraction.

God gave us all this. I’ve been reading my sister in law’s memoir of growing up and escaping her rule bound, relentlessly negative evangelical faith. This book wasn’t in her Bible, surely?

Has mine lost it too? What gave me pause?

Father, help me find passion and joy around me

Psalm 117

Big love, forever faithful.

Score! Easy reading today. Wikipedia confirmed this is the shortest chapter in the Bible, and as it turns out the middle one.

Praise God – who? Everyone! All nations, all people.

Praise God – why? Because his huge love has taken over our lives (thanks message translation!) And his faithfulness lasts forever, praise the Lord!

Deep down in its very heart this book’s secret is revealed: the Bible is a love letter.

I was circulated stats yesterday. Australia is approx 50% Christian. I’m actually surprised it’s that high. Glebe, where I go to church is more like 30%, and it dropped about 9% in the past 5 years. I’d even been feeling pretty good about the 30% until they laid out the bars over each other in a graph, each one dramatically shorter.

What’s up God? Is this going to tend down to zero?

And I had a sleepless night. Woke up at two with a restless mind. I’m disturbed, can’t unpack why. A bit to do with identity and the future, somehow.

Praise God – is it a fun communal activity, or a largely unheard plea?

Well it’s true. His love is great, it’s for sharing with everyone, and it will be the last thing standing. Praise God!

Psalm 100

“The sheep of his pasture.”

It’s a five verse psalm, and that’s about it’s only metaphor.

It catches the three observations about God on which the action of the psalm hangs: He made us – we’re his; He’s good, and He’s faithful – His love endures forever.

The action is: being glad to worship him, singing joyfully, being in his presence with an attitude of gratitude. And the whole earth shouting to him.

Like sheep we will never not be in the pasture of a caring shepherd. Eternal safety and provision.

Sheep don’t express gratitude, but they feel it by not being stressed. There the metaphor breaks down, because we can express our praise and gratitude, but we do experience knots of stress even though we have a faithful shepherd.

I think I always subconsciously read this sort of thing as a series of absolute and impossible commands: Shout to the lord. All the earth. Always be praising him and having grateful thoughts. I said always, mister eye roller!

Or a sweet but impossible dream: forever on a high about God. As if.

But it’s more like a party Psalm – how we’re spending these moments together. It’s not a future objective, it’s an inclusive now. The experience will become a memory, a mental balm to take with us into the contradictions.

The only shouting in our house last night was me shouting at our daughter. I was frustrated with her negativity. She has some good reasons to feel negative, but I was frustrated with it anyway, and saying that it is a dead end to be all about nursing your bitterness. She objected to that characterisation.

It was either – best scenario – a tough lovin’ slap of reality or – worst case – kicking someone while they are down.

And I do love her, I pray for her and want good things for her. I know she loves me. We are both sheep in god’s pasture.

But our now for now includes shouting at each other. Shouting to the lord is a factual backdrop, we’ve actually done it together, many a time. May he keep us safe.

Psalm 84

Another for which I simply have to include a choral setting. It inspired gorgeous soaring, light, sweeping romantic music in Brahms that I can’t not hear when I read it.

It’s about being in the presence of God, describing it as lovely, describing how much the writer yearns for it.

I think of it as heaven, and also the joy of having found God, knowing him. God’s presence now.

For the writers it could have described the journey to the temple, that dwelling place of God.

But all have in common the security, the joy, of being connected to the author of life.

On Friday I went to the funeral of Haley the 2 years 4 months child of a co-worker who had a brain tumour. I only ever saw her very unwell, but they showed video of her playing Peekaboo, delighting in some bread, and enjoying presents on her second Christmas, before the diagnosis

It was a short life, but it was a precious life. It says in the psalm that one day being merely a doorkeeper in the courts of God is worth 1000 anywhere else.

On days like last Friday the certainty of grace in Jesus means we looked back on her life but only with sadness but as beautiful and joyous. Her middle name was joy, and she gave it, knew it and will know it for eternity.

How lovely are your dwellings fair oh Lord of hosts! My soul ever longeth and fainteth for the blessed courts of the Lord.

This video is from the funeral for the Queen mother, and when they get to the cascading peals of the blessed ever praising God the camera seems to rise up the Westminster Abbey pillars almost to the heavens. The chords and overlapping melodies are more glorious and luscious than I remember!

Psalm 81

I’m at a depressing phase of new years: knuckling back down to work, family bored and restless in the hot, wet weather, facing the bills and bank balances I ignored over the break.

But here is a festival Psalm. Sing joyfully to God because it’s new moon, and because God says to. Just because God, really.

The festival was the day of atonement, closest thing they had to Easter I suppose.

This was followed by the festival of the booths, like a two week picnic with tents.

And it comes with a plea to the people to listen to God. If only they would do that, it would unlock so much blessing.

Well day two back at work.

I have some goals… Two enjoyable pieces of work I want drafted by the end of the week.

I got a good night’s sleep having adjusted my clock backwards a few hours.

Sing joyfully, I can do this!

I loved singing this setting of the first 4 verses as a child. All the joyous lines pile on top of each other so you can’t even make out the words for all the sweet weaving notes.. 2 minutes of bliss!

Lyre,timbrel, viol, trumpet!

Psalm 57

This one takes flight. It’s from a moment when David has some quiet contemplation time during his fugitive period, hiding in a cave. His confidence that he has backed the right horse, God, is already strong at the start, fear is not urgent.

Poetry thrives on contrast, and from his dark lonely cave we get an increasingly exultant series of them.

And here, now, it’s spring. After weeks of rain, flu, a winter that won’t let go, all that cleared yesterday, for Friday and the weekend. I felt like singing myself as I had coffee in the park with a colleague, drinks and dinner with friends in the time-shifted sunshine after work.

The scriptures and my life don’t need to match up, but now I feel they have! It’s fresh and bright and new after weeks of gloom.

David compares the safety of the cave, as he hears lions outside, to feeling like a chick under the wing of God, safe and warm and loved.

Morning comes, he compares it to music, contrasting the dark silence of the cave to the rich breadth of the dawn, the awakening day awakens the sound of lute and lyre in his memory. After getting safe, he gets happy

You can picture him at the mouth of his tiny cave, so small his life has become, comparing the vastness of the lightening heavens to the greatness of God, the God of all nations who is above the highest he can see, feeling at one with that God.

He mentions the enemies, he compares them to the lions outside the cave. He is aware of their viciousness, like the lions teeth, and their plotting like the prowling, but he visualises them falling into a pit of their own making. Swallowed up by their own wrong choices. Shoulda trusted God.

So: Saturday, blue skies above, what an upbeat way to start a new day. May I be open to blessing, alert to possibilities. Did trust God!