Category Archives: psalms

The horrors of King David

I was horrified this morning as I read 1 Samuel 11 – not just the edited version of the lectionary, but the whole chapter.

King David was terrible.

  • He sends out his troops in battle but stays home in Jerusalem.
  • He sees the wife of a foreigner who is fighting for him and lusts after her.
  • He sends messengers to get her to come to him. He goes to bed with her.
  • When he finds out she’s pregnant he tries to find a way to hide it.
  • He sends for the foreigner who is fighting for him and tells him to go home and have sex with his wife. He even sends a present after him.
  • The foreigner, more just than David, refuses and instead sleeps with the other troops at the palace door. The foreigner had sworn by God and by king David that he would not do it and he is true to his word – as well as to God and king David.
  • Then David gets him drunk so that he’ll go home, have sex with his wife, and cover up David’s adultery.
  • The foreigner, although drunk, refuses.
  • David is distraught. So he sends a message to his commander by means of the foreigner that tells his commander to find a way to do away with the foreigner, disguising it as an act of battle. David not only commands a killing; he sends the message through the person who he wants killed.
  • David’s commander arranges for the foreigner to be killed by a strategic move during a battle. Other soldiers are also killed.
  • David gets the word. He’s first angry at the defeat but is appeased when he finds out the foreigner is killed.
  • After the foreigner’s wife finished the time of mourning, David took her into his palace as another of his wives.

David was a sinner – and Psalm 51 is perhaps the only decent response to these acts.

But are we any better?

You may have noticed that I did not use the names of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba his wife, or Joab. David treated them not as persons but as things to be manipulated for his pleasure and power.

Do we do that?

Also, are we not often like David in other ways? I remember the honest answer of Jimmy Carter to the question about whether he had ever committed adultery. Carter recalled that he had committed adultery in his heart.

And how many times are we not like David in trying to cover up our sins and the results of our sin? We may not kill someone to do this but we sometimes try to manipulate persons or the facts in order to cover up our sins. Or we may try to kill another’s reputation by blaming our faults on another.

I think I see some of this happening in the US primary campaigns and in the corrupt politics here in Honduras. But I must also ask myself, “How much am I like king David?”

Horror of horrors.

But God is merciful.

Have mercy on me God in your kindness;
in your compassion blot out my offense….
Psalm 51

Cicadas praise the Creator on Earth Day

Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Psalm 66

 This morning, just back home in Plan Grande, I had hoped to sleep in – to 6:30 or 7:00. But nature’s alarm clock awakened me at 5:10 am.

The cicadas are chanting – in loud voices – right outside my windows.

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I heard them yesterday when I arrived at 3:00 pm and saw them in the tree. (I photographed one this morning.)

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I  found three live cicadas in the house last night and two this morning. I released them from captivity in the house.

I also found some dead ones on the upstairs terrace. It seems that if they fall on their backs they can’t turn over.

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They stopped their chirping last night and so I could sleep well. But at 5:10 they were up and sang their raucous song for about a minute. I managed to stay in bed until 5:20 since they were not too loud.

When I entered my prayer room, I heard a different noise at the window. When I opened the curtains, I encountered a black bird outside, perhaps looking at his reflection in the window.

But when I sat down, the cicadas kept up their song – at times loud, at times less loud, but still enough to be a distraction.

However, when I read the psalm response for today’s liturgy – “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy,” I realized that the cicadas praise God with their racket.

I know that soon they will die – and a few have died on my terrace and other places. But in their brief lives they praise God with their loud chirping.

What a beautiful way to begin Earth Day – hearing creation praising the Creator.

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By the way, I have been told that there are two kinds of cicadas here: the chicharas which are pretty monotone and not too loud and the chiquirines which are loud and have a range of tones. The chiquirines can be almost deafening. I recorded some that I heard on Good Friday in another village. Listen to them here.

Creeping things and sea monsters

DSC06290On the fifth day God created the great sea monsters; on the sixth day, the earth brings forth creeping things

The poem of creation in Genesis 1 sings of the marvels of God creating a universe filled with incredible creatures. It’s not a scientific tract but a joyful song.

This joy is reflected in psalm 104, one of my favorites.

Verses 14 and 15 (Grail translation, 1983) are priceless:

You made the grass grow for the cattle
and the plants to serve our needs,
that we may bring forth bread from the earth
and wine to cheer our hearts;
oil to make our faces shine
and bread to strengthen our hearts.

Bread, wine, and oil – necessities for the people of Israel and us – are provided by God.

But verses 25 and 26 really delight me and bring a smile to my face:

 There is the sea, vast and wide,
with its moving swarms past counting,
living things, great and small.
The ships are moving there
and the monsters you made to play with.

I can just picture God playing with Leviathan – the great sea monster.

Some translations just have Leviathan playing, but the Grail translation, La Biblia Latinoamericana and the Jewish Tanakh give the impression that God is playing with the monsters.

What an image of God! A God who delights in all creatures and even romps in the surf with sea monsters.

God is good – and God is playful.

May creeping things and sea monsters give praise to God and may we delight in God’s playful creativity.

The poor in psalm 68

The responsorial psalm in today’s lectionary is Psalm 68. As part of my morning prayer I often read the whole psalm, not just the selected verses.

Often I encounter beautiful verses that speak to my heart.

This morning God’s love for the poor is made very clear in several verses of Psalm 68, as in many other psalms:

6 Father of the orphan, defender of the widow,
such is God in his holy place.
7 God gives the lowly a home to live in;
he leads the prisoners forth in liberty.

10 You poured down, O God, a generous rain;
when your people were starved
you gave them new life.
11 It was there that your people found a home,
prepared in your goodness, O God, for the poor.

Our God has a special place in his heart – and in the Kingdom for the poor.

God gives the poor a home, a place to feel safe and to live in security.

And what are we doing?

A Jewish prophet and prayer as subversion

Prayer is subversive.

You only have to read the canticle of Hannah in 1 Kings 2: 1-10 or the canticle of Mary in Luke 1: to hear how God wants to turn this world upside down.

The bow of the mighty is broken
but the weak are girded with strength
1 Kings 2: 4
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts
and raised up the lowly.
Luke 1: 52

All too long the poor have been victimized by systems and powers that seek to hoard the goods of this world and to keep the poor in line.  But God wants something different.

Forty years ago today, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel died. He was a Jewish theologian and philosopher who shared his learning with the world, not only within the Jewish community. He also shared his learning by living it in the streets as he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., for racial justice, and marched with people of many faiths (and no faith) to seek an end to the war in Vietnam.

One of his quotes has touched me deeply for many years:

Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.

During this time of darkness and hope, let us pray prayers of subversion and live them, especially Psalm 72 which speaks of the good ruler:

May he defend the poor of the people,
and save the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
For he shall save the needy when they cry,
the poor, and those who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak and the needy,
and save the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their souls;
to him their blood is dear.
Psalm 72: 12-14

Would that nations and peoples lived the prophetic words of scripture! This year is a time to start.

Fear, joy, and a disarming God

I live in the second poorest country in the Americas with the highest homicide rate in the world.

But why do I find myself full of joy and at peace here?

This morning’s psalm 46 from Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours may provide a clue.

As I prayed it – first in Spanish and then in English – I noted that the three strophes have different but related themes. Here are some initial thoughts, that will be my day-long meditation.

 1. God is our refuge, our helper – therefore, “we do not fear.”

Fear is so debilitating; it isolates us and keeps us from really living. It turns the other person into a threat to my existence.

There are lots of things to fear – crime, being rejected, death, sickness, bugs. These paralyze us and keep us from seeing the goodness of people and of God’s creation. But God is our refuge.

 2. God’s stream of water “gives joy.”

God is so gracious and the source of joy. I have been blessed with a smile and have inherited a hearty sense of humor from my Dad. Even in the midst of pain and injustice, God has let me see the marvels of God’s love – the beauty of creation, the holiness and love of the poor I work with.

3. God is a disarming God

“Consider the works of the Lord…. He puts an end to wars over all the earth; the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps; he burns the shields with fire.”

God not only dismantles the weapons of offense – the bow, the spear, the bomb, the machine gun; God burns with fire our defenses: shields, locked gates, barbed wire fences.

God calls us to be vulnerable, to be open. It’s not easy – and I always want some protection, some “security” precautions.

But how?

The end of the third strophe makes it clear:

 “Be still, and know that I am God.”

In stillness we can learn that God is, that I, John, am not god, that God is our strength – even in our weaknesses.

And that brings me joy.

 

Bread, Wine, and Oil

Christianity is incarnational. We believe in a God who became human, who lived and worked as a human being, who ate, drank and even went to the bathroom. We believe in a God who loved to eat with friends – and even sat down with foes.

Ours is not a religion that despises the good things of this world. Sure there is contamination of the world – mostly through the actions of human beings like us. But the world is fundamentally good.

In the first chapter of Genesis there are six days of creation and one day on which God rested – seven days. (Seven is a number of perfection and fullness in the Bible.) But we may overlook that six times the text says, “and God saw that it was good,” and at the end of the sixth day, “and God saw that it was very good.”

God saw that the creation is good. So too we should look at creation with the eyes of God.

Psalm 104, a song of praise of the Creator, has helped me to do this. Filled with delightful images it recounts what God has done – and keeps doing – in creation.

Two sections have especially touched me.

Verses 14-15 sing of the richness of the earth:

You make the grass to grow for the cattle
and the plants to serve our needs,
that we might bring forth bread from the earth
and wine to cheer our hearts;
oil to make our faces shine
and bread to strengthen our hearts.

Verses 25-26 on the sea reveal the playfulness of God in creating the world:

There is the sea, vast and wide,
with its moving swarms past counting,
living things great and small.
The ships are moving there
and the monsters you made to play with.

Some translations speak of Leviathan instead of the monsters. As the New American Bible footnote explains Leviathan. “A mythological sea monster as a symbol of primeval chaos.… God does not destroy chaos but makes it part of the created order.”

God is playful and wants us to use the earth widely, bringing forth bread, wine, and oil, but also it is a place where we may play – as do the whales, dolphins, and flying fish.

Today – as a pre-Lenten discipline – let us enjoy good crusty bread, rich wine, and food cooked in good olive oil (if we can get them), do something playful,  and thank God for creation.