Remember Walter Brueggemann’s classification scheme for the Psalms: orientation, disorientation, and new orientation? I feel like you could apply the same scheme to my blog here. You’ve got your (i.e. my) posts of orientation, posts of disorientation…and sometimes a move from one mode to another. Take yesterday, where I took a step back, looked at myself and Ephesians 1:3-14 here, and moved from disorientation to new orientation. I’ve got a feeling I might manage a post of disorientation before we close out the week, but man, sometimes I get so tired of trying to whip up some thoughts for the blog. Sometimes I just wanna rest.
Welcome back to The Study on Thankfulness Which Must Not Be Named, Because Its Name Is Dumb. Today we’re taking our first thankfulness-related dip into the Psalms, but it may well not be our last; the Psalms are rife with thankfulness. Psalm 30, as we have seen before, concerns David’s gratitude to God for rescuing him from impending death.
From 2002 to 2004, I attended St. John’s College in Annapolis. Every student, among other things, had to take freshman chorus: we all had to learn to sing. One of the songs we sung was an arrangement of the first verse of Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Zion.” This version, performed by Ensemble Sottovoce and written by Philip Hayes (1737-1797), is the arrangement I’m familiar with, but my Youtube-combing turned up several other versions, including one by Don “American Pie” Mclean, one from Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary Choir that uses a traditional Eastern Orthodox melody, and this performance by Trinity Church of England High School, which is absolutely haunting and would not be out of place in a Metroid game. As we’ve seen, the texts of the psalms are ripe for musical adaptation, and Psalm 137 is no exception.
In junior high, my dad introduced me to Archimedes’ spiral, or the “goat on a rope.” If you take a compass and draw a line where the distance of your pencil from the center point equals the angle between your compass and the x-axis, you get this line. Or to put it in mathematical terms, it’s the polar coordinate equation r = θ. My dad told me that life is like Archimedes’ spiral: as you live and grow, you keep coming back to similar points in your life, but further out on the spiral. Say you’ve read a psalm before, and then you read it again. The second time around, you’re reading it on a more distant loop on the spiral. It’s a new experience–but it’s similar to the old one.
For the first time since Psalm 103, we have a psalm whose author identifies himself: it’s David. It’s a Psalm of Orientation, but the weird thing is it finds David asking for deliverance. Even confronted with adversaries, he speaks from a place of confidence, not disorientation. You can probably sense the trajectory at this point.
It is with tongue in cheek that I encourage you to extoll my virtues in the caption for today’s photo. After all, this psalm encourages us to praise God, not man, and moreover, it is only five verses long. One square of chocolate is all I need!
Have I told the story of the time I got in trouble for losing my TV privileges? No? Okay, let’s open with that one. One Saturday morning when I was 8, I got my TV privileges revoked. I don’t remember what evil I had committed to incur such a penalty, but that morning when my parents took me to Queen City Fitness center, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV in the lounge. However, they hadn’t said anything about hearing TV. So, while my dad went swimming and my mom went to her aerobics class, I went behind the lounge couch and listened to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the couch blocking my view of the TV. When dad found me behind the couch, back to the TV set, I received a stern lecture about the letter and the spirit of the law. And I relate that story because 1) you’ve got to introduce your blog post somehow, and 2) the letter and the spirit of the law are what today’s passage from the prophet Amos are all about.
Welcome back to the fourth commandment. In fact, welcome back to the fourth commandment twice. The first time, in Exodus, God issues the ten commandments from Mount Sinai, but for the reprise in Deuteronomy, Moses gives the Hebrews an annotated refresher course before they enter the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The two iterations of the commandment appear similar, but if you take a close look at them like the “spot the difference” page in Highlights for Children, you’ll observe some subtle variations.
In our study on the Sabbath today, like yesterday, we’re looking at a letter-for-letter appearance not of the English word “Sabbath,” but of the Hebrew word shabath, “to rest.” When Moses and Aaron are pushing for Pharaoh to let the enslaved Hebrews celebrate a feast to the Lord, Pharaoh uses the word when he denies their request. He repudiates Moses and Aaron: “Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!” (Exodus 5:5). The word translated “cease” here is shabath. Pharaoh forbids them from stopping: not only are they denied a weekend, they are denied a vacation. Welcome to Egypt, the No-Sabbath Zone, the Labor Hole.
All is well in today’s psalm. The psalmist is glad to praise God with songs and stringed instruments, the wicked are brought to justice, and the righteous prosper while thanking God through worship. Going by Brueggemann’s classification scheme, with which by this time you are certainly well-acquainted, this is a psalm of orientation. As the saying goes, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.