Monthly Archives: January 2015

Psalm 8- The Soul Searcher’s Psalm

Picture of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon

Picture of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon

 Psalm 8
 <To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.>
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

When Apollo 11 made its trip to the moon in 1969 the leaders of various nations and important voices from the earth were invited to send messages that were included on a small disk that included these greeting. Pope Paul VI included Psalm 8 as a part of his greeting and in light of the magnitude of the journey and the fragility of the men and machines that made the journey this psalm was an excellent choice. This is the first Psalm of praise and wonder in the Psalter and it wonders at the writer’s place in the cosmos and the place of humanity in the cosmos. It, like the language of the creation narratives in Genesis, is an expression of awe and praise, of reflecting on the majesty of the world and the universe that wondered encounters.  Where Psalms 3-7 have found the psalmist finding their world compressed by fear, by weakness or sickness, by oppression or opposition in Psalm 8 we find the world expanded beyond the immediate moment as the poet gazes into the sky and enters into a state of wonder and awe.

Perhaps the place of wonder, praise and amazement arises out of the experience of being delivered. Where before there was wonder about the present moment because of one’s enemies, now the enemies have been silenced from the weakest of place-from the mouth of babes. The world is no longer compressed and the promise in previous Psalms to praise the LORD can now be fulfilled. This is as Rolf Jacobson calls it appropriately the Psalm for ‘soul searchers’ (Nancy de Clarisse-Walford, 2014, p. 120) For those who look out at the heavens and the earth and all of flora, fauna and features and marvel. In our modern age as we look further out into the night sky at galaxies and universes or deeper into the subatomic world we can still respond from a place of awe at the complexity and beauty of the cosmos we inhabit. Yet for many people the world has lost the sense of wonder it may have once had. The skies become illumined by electric lights blotting out the stars and constellations, the beauty of the world becomes reduced to cold and analytical resources to be exploited. We lose the mystery and magic of the world and the romance between the question of ourselves as a part of the creation and yet somehow entrusted with it as well. As Charles Taylor states memorably speaking of our disenchanted reality, “We might say that we moved from living in a cosmos to be included in a universe.” (Taylor, 2007, p. 59) What Charles Taylor is referring to is the sense of loss that many people feel about the difference between the enchanted cosmos of our ancestors full of mystery, magic and danger and our more analyzed and scientific universe where we have lost the sense of mystery and magic.

Psalms are poetry and in their words they wonder about the place in the world of the writer and the writer’s relationship with their Creator. What are human beings that you are mindful of them? These fragile and fickle beings that live for only a short time and then must pass the torch to the next generation. Yet in the midst of the marvel of the cosmos which the poet stands within is the contrast between the miniscule and the majestic. The finite is valued by the infinite, for the Creator has endowed the creation, these men and women, with the ability to reign. Perhaps reflecting back to the Genesis 1 creation narrative Psalm 8 talks of humans being crowned with the glory of God, perhaps a way of referring to the Hebrew thought that humans are created in the image of God. And echoing the creation narratives humanity rules over “the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1. 26) and yet the place of the Psalmist is not due to the Psalmist own power or majesty but instead is bestowed upon them by the Creator whose name is magnificent in all the earth. It is praise and awe and wonder, and as Martin Luther reflected on creation almost 500 years ago the response was simply:

“For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.” (Luther, 1994, p. 25)

Psalm 7- The God who Judges

Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folix 46v- David Beseeches God Against Evildoers, The Musee Conde, Chantilly

Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folix 46v- David Beseeches God Against Evildoers, The Musee Conde, Chantilly

Psalm 7

<A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjaminite.>
 1 O LORD my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
 2 or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
 3 O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,
 4 if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause,
 5 then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground,
 and lay my soul in the dust. Selah
 6 Rise up, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
 awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
 7 Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high.
 8 The LORD judges the peoples; judge me, O LORD,
according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.
 9 O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous,
you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.
 10 God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart.
 11 God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.
 12 If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow;
 13 he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.
 14 See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies.
 15 They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made.
 16 Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.
 17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
and sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

Within the Western church there is a long history where a lot of the focus has been upon the individual Christian’s sins and the way those sins would impact the individual’s afterlife. God’s judgment was removed from the sphere of everyday life and confined to a later time far removed from the actions in question. This has allowed our confession and guilt to be isolated from those who have borne the consequence of our individual or corporate sin, but this is not the world of the Psalmist. The Psalmist expects God to act upon the wrongdoer, to punish the sinful one because sin can never be separated from the victim of the sin. So the Psalmist can appeal to God for deliverance, a deliverance that is not separated from the reality of their oppressor. The Psalmist boldly trusts that, “If God is for us who can be against us.” As Paul states in Romans 8.31 or as Isaiah can state, “It is the LORD God who helps me, who will declare me guilty” (Isaiah 50.9a). The Psalmist appeals to God’s sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, righteousness and wickedness.  The Psalmist cries out from their peril with the LORD standing as the righteous judge between the Psalmist and their accusers. For many Christians the Psalms seem impious, since they come from a different view of reality than most Christians are used to, but the Psalmist dares to boldly enter God’s presence declaring that the punishment they are receiving is far greater than whatever guilt they have incurred.

For a person who was brought up in a tradition of ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’ (paraphrasing Matthew 7.1) it is necessary to also realize that sometimes in withholding judgment I have allowed either the wickedness I have done or others have done to continue to perpetrate harm. As impartial as I may try to be, there are times where I am ill equipped to be the righteous judge and I need a God who can be. I need a God who cares about the victims, the powerless, the oppressed and those wrongly accused and can intervene for them. A God who does act to shield and protect. Who allows the guilty to fall into traps of their own design or who can, in God’s anger, have them put away their weapons whether real or metaphorical.

The Psalms are poetry and not dogma, they are evocative and cry out from the experiences and emotions of the author and they raise as many questions as they may answer. They are songs of faith, a faith that deals with the uncertainties and troubles of life in the hope that God is active and does intervene. Perhaps the Psalm echoes our own experience of being oppressed and crying out for God’s action, or as Rolf Jacobson asks helpfully, “Are there people today who could be praying this Psalm with me as their enemy? Are there victims of my sin who could cry to the righteous judge for recompense?” (Nancy de Clarisse-Walford, 2014, p. 119) But the dynamic of the Psalms is that the bear witness to the active faith of their author who struggles with God, calling forth for God’s action and judgment. There is the trust in a God who does see, does hear, and does act in the world, bringing forth God’s judgment and righteousness even in the experience of torment, oppression and fear.

300 Thoughts

Folded Dreams by PORG at

Folded Dreams by PORG at

Three hundred thoughts from a cluttered and curious minds confined to print and digital text
Poetry and prose, history and religion, philosophy and psychology all clamoring to be heard
An external wrestling of an introspective mind playing with ideas and experimenting with words
Three hundred thoughts over the span of a couple years that bear some connection in my mind
Yet are not the ordered and methodical story of a novel, not even some convoluted collection of shorts
But somehow they fit together as a part of the web of thoughts that my mind seems to spin

Perhaps I thought this electronic place might serve as some mechanical pensieve
Some collection place where thoughts can be stored and later looked upon with detached fascination
But even once committed to pen and paper or keystroke and bytes the thoughts become impressed
The act of scribing them inscribes them all the more keenly on the pages of my mind
And yet in the process of writing the thoughts become clearer and connections unseen appear
And somehow in the midst of the poetry and prose and reflections I change and I grow
Not in some methodical and measurable way and yet as time plods its slow march
Things begin to make sense and new questions and curiosities rise to the surface

To you my reader who stand on the outside looking at what must at times seem a tangled mess
I thank you for your time and your patience and I hope that in these random thoughts
Some piece of wonder or wisdom has perhaps touched your journey as well
For these simple words we wield are powerful things and you never know what their impact may be

Neil White, 2015

This is the 300th post on sign of the rose and more are coming but it was a fun way to reflect on the process and posts of the last couple years.

Psalm 6- How Long, O LORD

Paris Psalter, folio 136v  'Reproched de Nathan a David, David penitent

Paris Psalter, folio 136v ‘Reproched de Nathan a David, David penitent

  Psalm 6

<To the leader: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.>
O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.
 2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
 3 My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O LORD– how long?
 4 Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?
 6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears;
 I drench my couch with my weeping.
 7 My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.
 8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
 9 The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD accepts my prayer.
 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

We will never know the situation that any particular Psalm is spoken originally from, except perhaps in cases where the Psalm itself gives us clues. Psalm 6 cries out in terms that reflect in turn a sense of alienation from God’s steadfast love, physical ailment or illness, anxiety and depression, and persecution by enemies and it is possible that all of these were afflicting the Psalmist at one particular moment or that the Psalmist may have used language and memory of these experiences to speak to the distress they feel in the moment as they cry out to the LORD. The Psalmist views their life as resting in the LORD’s hands and begins the appeal directly to God, crying out the name of the LORD. The Psalmist appeals for God’s graciousness not for the Psalmists own merit or worthiness but out of God’s hesed (steadfast love). In language that appears frequently through the psalter, the Psalmist speaks of their anguish and asks for God to end it. God’s anger may not be the only struggle of the Psalmist but it is the decisive one, for God’s anger is what the Psalmist is crying out for God to set aside so that they may be healed and their enemies may be put to shame.

The Psalmist cries out ‘how long’ and pleads for God to turn and relieve the poet’s suffering. Whether the poet is literally suffering in their bones (vs. 2) soul (vs. 3) and eyes (vs.7) there is a connection between external stresses and physical symptoms. As Rolf Jacobson aptly states, “anguish can dehumanize a sufferer, so that one’s sense of self is reduced to pain in one’s bones, body skin.” (Nancy de Clarisse-Walford, 2014, p. 105) Crying out how long while a traditional cry of lament also may indicate that the “pain described is no longer bearable and the speaker is at the breaking point. The intent of the phrase is to mobilize YHWH in a moment of desperate need.” (Brueggemann, 2014, p. 48) And perhaps if the question how long can be answered the Psalmist can endure until the LORD’s anger has passed.

This is one of the first Psalms we deal with the anger of God in relation to the faithful one, the Psalmist who cries out in lament. God’s anger is a necessary corollary of God’s love or as Jim Nieman, my preaching instructor years ago put it, “God’s anger is not the opposite of God’s love, God’s indifference would be the opposite of God’s love.” God’s love is not a sweet sentimentality to the Psalmist or throughout the Bible. God may care for and love me, but God also loves my neighbor and when my actions result in suffering or death to my neighbor then God’s anger arises from that love. Yet God’s steadfast love is always stronger than God’s anger and God’s anger is always connected to that love. (Nancy de Clarisse-Walford, 2014, p. 107)

The Psalmist trusts that in going to the LORD in lament that the Psalmist words are heard. Faith is far more than an optimistic state of mind for the Hebrew people, it is an active calling upon God to act according to God’s steadfast love precisely from the position of suffering. Even though God’s ways may be unknowable at times and mysterious there is still potent power in crying out to the LORD and that God actively hears and intervenes in their lives and in their world. And from my own experience it is often these times of questioning and suffering and anguish where later we can see the faith of the one who endures and cries out deepened. It is a fuller faith that trusts in a God who is present in the midst of the times of joy and the times of tears. A life which can endure the times where our bed is flooded with tears because we know in God’s mysterious time that God’s steadfast love will show itself and that God’s steadfast love will last longer than the suffering or the anger.  That eventually the LORD does hear the sound of the Psalmist, ancient and contemporary, weeping and that the LORD does act upon these pleading words.

One final note on the Psalm in verse 5 where it mentions “for in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?” In ancient Israel there is not yet a hope for a resurrection of the dead or anything more than a shadowy existence in the afterlife. Thinking about the resurrection is something that emerges much later and is up for debate at the time of Jesus. In the New Testament this will be a part of the disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. At the time the Psalms are written they are written with a very earthly understanding of God’s blessings and God’s anger. God’s steadfast love was a worldly reality that unfolded in the ways God took care of God’s people (or disciplined God’s people) and this may be hard for us to approach in the same way today in a secular world where we no longer think of unseen forces moving on our world but part of the Christian and Jewish understanding of reality is that God does act upon our world. For Christians it becomes a part of the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

Psalm 5- The God Who Hears and Protects

Gustave Dore, David Mourning Absalom (1866)

Gustave Dore, David Mourning Absalom (1866)

Psalm 5

<To the leader: for the flutes. A Psalm of David.>
 Give ear to my words, O LORD;give heed to my sighing.
 2 Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
 3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
 4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.
 5 The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
 6 You destroy those who speak lies;the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
 7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house,
 I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
 8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies;
 make your way straight before me.
 9 For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction;
their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.
 10 Make them bear their guilt, O God;let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.
 11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,so that those who love your name may exult in you.
 12 For you bless the righteous, O LORD;you cover them with favor as with a shield.


The God of the Psalmist, and the God presented throughout the bible, is a God who takes sides and values certain things and does not like others. This is not the impassive, unmoved mover of the philosophy of the 1700s-1900s who set the world in motion and then allowed it to move through time like a machine. The passionate cries of the Psalmist assume a God who not only hears but actively responds to the complaints and needs of the poet. Again and again God is named, implored to hear, listen, heed and ultimately to act. One of the courageous acts of the Psalmist and those who pray the Psalms is calling on God to be the God they expect God to be. They remind God of the contrast between the situation they perceive and the things they understand God to value.

In Psalm 5 the contrast is stated in terms of wickedness, lies, bloodshed, deceit and evil. The Psalmist is one who seeks righteousness, and as in Psalm 1 trusts, “for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1.6) and so the poet reminds the LORD again that “you are not a God who delights in wickedness.” Yet the complaint of the Psalmist arises out of the situation where the wicked, the evil, the boastful, liars, bloodthirsty and deceitful are the ones who the Psalmist perceives as their troublemakers. The Psalmist calls on God to act and to do something about this. Perhaps there are those by flattery who are obtaining power or who are accusing the writer of the psalm and the Psalmist asks for the guilt to fall upon them. As in Psalms three and four the Psalmist calls out for protection and for the LORD’s deliverance from the situation that the Psalmist finds themselves caught up within.

There is also the reality that the Psalmist, while attempting to be faithful, relies upon God’s steadfast love. The word translated steadfast love is hesed which also can be translated as grace. This is one of the many places in the Psalms where Martin Luther and others could find evidence of the gracious God who met the hearer in the midst of their own unworthiness. As in the reformation where the response to God’s grace was to love, serve, worship, and obey the LORD, so in the Psalm the steadfast love of the LORD is cause for awe and worship. The LORD is the Psalmist’s refuge and the refuge of all who seek the LORD. In language that would be familiar to many the LORD is refuge and shield, protection in the midst of their trouble and a safe place where the faithful may sing for joy and rejoice.