Psalms and Pastoral Interns, Some Thoughts

Psalms and Pastoral Interns, Some Thoughts November 8, 2012

Psalm 1

King James Version (KJV)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Last night I didn’t have to teach Bible study.  Instead, our pastoral intern Kristin Campbell was assigned to lead a discussion about Psalm 1.  I fully expected Kristin to do a great job, but I have been surprised at how much our discussion last night has stuck with me.

Psalm 1 is a familiar one for me.  I remember my parents reading it at morning family devotions and talking about it like a cautionary tale…you could either be the good man (nobody used inclusive language back then) and follow the right path and everything would be great and you’d grow like a big, leafy tree…or you could choose the wrong path and end up dried and dead and blowing around in the wind, a total failure.  Make sure you chose the right path, the message sounded loud and clear…or else.

A little later in my life, I experienced the Psalm through a choral setting we sang in various choirs where I participated.  I tried without success to find a copy on YouTube.  There would be no point in my trying to sing it here, as my singing would result in no recognition whatsoever.  But the music planted the Psalm a little deeper in my heart.  It has always been one of my favorites.

Last night, however, I got to think of it in a totally new way.

Kristin said the Psalm was meant to be a sort of preface to the entire Psalter, like the beginning of the whole songbook of the Psalms.  Since we’ve been studying the Psalms all fall, our group knows there are all sorts of Psalms that express many different kinds of human emotions…Kristin told us they were a whole body of worship materials that reflect on human relationship with God, and Psalm 1 is instruction for how to use them.

So, as instruction for the Hebrews who used the Psalter, the Psalmist reminds them that the best way to use the Psalms is to meditate on them day and night.  Of course this image calls to mind ashrams in India and yoga teachers who tell us to “still our minds.”  But Kristin pointed out that the word “meditate” here really means more like “recite” or “recall”—that the word instructs the reader or listener to use the Psalms for personal meditation, reading, recitation.

This was important for the Hebrew people, who didn’t carry around leather-bound KJVs in floral Bible cases.  Their tradition was largely oral, and it was critical for community formation that they learned and recited the words of the Psalter, recountings of life in relationship with God.  It’s how they learned to know God.

If they didn’t take advantage of reciting or meditating on the Psalter, they ran the risk of becoming unmoored…of drifting away from the foundations of their community’s life—relationship with Yahweh.

All of this put an interesting spin on Psalm 1 for me.  Turns out Psalm 1 is not really a cautionary Psalm, ranking some people more pious than others and damning those who make bad choices to hell forever and ever.  Instead, it’s a gentle reminder that the life of discipleship is a life of disciplined remembering…of recalling again and again the actions of God in the lives of us humans, and learning from what we’ve already experienced.

I woke up this morning still thinking about Psalm 1, a reminder to make discipleship a regular part of every day, so my life can be planted with deep roots, reaching down into nourishing soil and up toward God and the world God has made.

I love pastoral interns.

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