Monthly Archives: May 2016

Seeking Wisdom

Wisdom by Wes Talbott at Deviantart

Wisdom by Wes Talbott at Deviantart

The poet’s quest is to pay attention to the ways in which the secrets of the universe unfold in exploration
Perhaps, in the dusty shelves of a library filled with ancient and venerated tomes wisdom may be found
Or she might be discovered in the exploration of new lands and new world, the open eyed journey into the unknown
Perhaps, it is in paying attention to the mundane and ordinary tasks and chores that form the bulk of each day
Or in the enjoyment of the celebratory feasts where rich wines and fine food dress the banquet table joyously
Maybe wisdom whispers in the conversation of an old friend, a child, a lover, a beloved old saint or a grumpy old miser
Some knowledge can only be learned by passing through the crucible of pain and loss, the moments that break us
There is a certain wisdom that is only learned in the salt of tears and the darkest shadows of our mortal lives
Yet, in her time wisdom makes merry the soul, glad the heart and allows the poet’s spirit to sing new songs
For in her own way lady wisdom brings order to the chaos of creation and paints the heavens with her bright palette
And perhaps seeking wisdom is not merely the means to the end but is the end itself, the answer to the meaning of life
Not as some all-encompassing proverb but in the journey of seeking after wisdom as a lover seeks the object of desire
And to be amazed at the ways in which wisdom in her own time chooses to share her secrets with her seeker

Psalm 18 Royal Thanks at the End of the Journey

Matteo Rosseli, Triunfo de David (1620)

Matteo Rosseli, Triunfo de David (1620)

Psalm 18

<To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:>
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice.
14 And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
20 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.
24 Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
26 with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
27 For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28 It is you who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God– his way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God except the LORD? And who is a rock besides our God?–
32 the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.
33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great.
36 You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.
37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.
38 I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.
39 For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them.
42 I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
43 You delivered me from strife with the peoples; you made me head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.
44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me.
45 Foreigners lost heart, and came trembling out of their strongholds.
46 The LORD lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation,
47 the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me;
48 who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent.
49 For this I will extol you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name.
50 Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.

Psalm 18 is nearly identical to 2 Samuel 22 and both probably share a common source. The narrative superscription of Psalm 18 also makes sense when linked to the ending of the story of David (1 Samuel 22 is directly before the last words of David in the books of Samuel). It is a Psalm that looks backwards at the ways in which the LORD has been present in the midst of a life of faith and now at the end of the journey the Psalmist is thankful. Even though the great commandment of Deuteronomy states that a person is to love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul and strength it is unusual for the Psalms to speak of a person loving God and Psalm 18 unique to use loving the LORD as an opening for the words of praise. Most often, throughout the Psalms it is the LORD’s love that is lifted up but now in response to all of the actions reflected upon throughout the Psalm, the singer gushes about the way that the LORD, having protected and cared for them, having rescued them from death and hearing their distress, is now the object of the Psalmist’s love. Like St. Augustine could state in Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rest in Thee.” If David is the author of this Psalm then perhaps this is an illustration of what it means to consider David ‘a man after God’s own heart.’

In several of the preceding Psalms the petitioner has asked God to see and to hear, and now looking backwards they reflect upon the ways that God saw, heard and acted. In that time of crisis, the place where it seems like God may not be listening, it is often hard to perceive the ways in which God may already be at work. Yet, in hindsight the poet can see the movements of God as earth shatteringly powerful. The poet takes up the colorful language of mountains trembling and pulling the rescued one from the cords of Sheol (not hell but the place of the dead-concepts of heaven and hell as dwelling places for the dead are not a part of the early Hebrew expectations).  God is the rock, deliverer, fortress, shield, horn of salvation, the warrior who comes with smoking nostrils and devouring fire, who bends the heavens and brings darkness to the earth, and who can ride upon the cherubs (not the chubby little baby angels we imagine, but creatures that are both terrifying and whose few mentions in the scriptures seem to defy easy definition but they are definitely not human and are used for example to guard the tree of life in the garden of Eden in Genesis 3).

I have written about the image of God as the Divine Warrior in other places (here, here, and here). And while this is an image which can be abused and twisted to any number of negative expressions of religion (especially when that religion is linked to the power of the state and the state becomes enforcer of Orthodoxy) it can also become a potent image for liberation. If we were to look at the story of David, the period where his life is threatened by King Saul or the numerous points in his reign where he was under threat from external or internal forces, the belief that God sustained and watched over him and was able to act in ways against his enemies was a powerful one. This imagery has often been used in positive ways by the righteous in times of persecution. In a world where many people assume God is benign or unconcerned (the opposite view of the Psalmist) the belief that God sees, hears and can act powerfully is a beacon of hope for the faithful.

Much of the language of the Psalms is hyperbolic (exaggerated language which is common in poetry- the mountains, for example, didn’t literally have to shake) and that language can also extend to the Psalmists own righteousness. If we take the story of David, even though he did seek after the LORD, he was far from perfect and his reign was far from always righteous. Yet, the language does echo the desire for what a king should be in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20. The Psalms will wrestle with the language of righteousness and unrighteousness and here the Psalmist feels they are in a state of peace with God. God has watched over their estate and prospered them. Perhaps it is an idealization of the difficult past but the trust is that God has viewed the writer as one who is worth saving and worth lifting up.

With the Psalms harkening back to David we need to remember that the poet is not a person who is distanced from the conflicts that were a part of the life of ancient Israel, but rather David and the other Psalmists were likely warrior poets. David was a warrior king, from early in his life he was not only the boy who slew Goliath of Gath but quickly became the leader of King Saul’s army and his exploits earned him both praise and the envy of his king at that point. In 1 Samuel 18: 7 the women can sing as they meet King Saul:
Saul has killed his thousands; and David his ten thousands.
Or as Deuteronomy 20 can discuss the expectation is that the people will be going forth to war and that God will act on their behalf. Psalms like Psalm 144 and Psalm 149 exult in the language of the warrior whose military prowess has been enhance by God. The triumphal language may make us uncomfortable in a context where we thankfully have known peace at home for several generations but this was not the ancient world.

The Psalmist’s faith is a faith that has endured in the midst of trial, conflict and hardship. In the midst of all of the challenges that their life has faced their belief and trust is that God has watched over and preserved them in the midst of all their challenges. Sometimes God has provided them the strength to conquer their enemies and enact vengeance (again even the vengeance is proclaimed in hyperbolic language- beating them fine as dust for example). Sometimes God rescues them in a condition of mortal peril. In all these things their experience is that the LORD is faithful. As St. Paul could say a millennium later:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 31-39



Post-Human Evolutions 3:The Gladiators


The Sons of Mars: The Gladiators



Jean-Leon Gerome, Pollice Verso (1872)

Jean-Leon Gerome, Pollice Verso (1872)

They enter the new coliseums to the thunderous applause of their devotees
These modern day gladiators lifted up as the heroes of the age
The champions among us, some mingling of humanity with lesser gods
In ancient days the gladiators were slaves who fought for the promise
Of an elusive freedom once they had earned Caesar’s favor for their prowess
But the modern day sons of Mars who ascend to the hallowed fields of competition
Can be richer than princes and occupy the choice seats at the banquet of life
Stronger, faster and more powerful through blood and training
They are freaks of nature capable of godlike feats with their bodies
For a time they seem invincible and unmatchable and we watch them
Projecting them onto screens that are even larger than the life they live
Yet, once they fall they are quickly consigned to the dustbin of memory
For there is no place for wounded warriors or broken gladiators
Some few may transcend their place on the field of play and ascend
Token warriors remembered long after their final fight, a chose few
Whether broken in body or mind of simply feeling the mortality of age
There will always be new gladiators, younger and hungrier
Drinking up the applause of the adoring mob who have assembled
To worship the sons of Mars whose lives are lived in arena

Neil White, 2016


Nostalgia: From Greek ‘nostos’-returning home + ‘algos’- pain

Memories can contain truth and still be a lie
And we can be homesick for a home that was never ours
Sometimes the picture of the past is painted in the brushstrokes of nostalgia
Wide strokes that blur the sharper points of reality, dulling the story
Concealing the jagged edges of pain, sorrow and regret
Choosing colors far more vibrant for the memory than the sepia past
Caught walking backwards on a road that continually pulls us forward
Oblivious to the pitfalls and potential of the present or the promise of the future
Bent on returning to a home far smaller than we imagine in our minds
And a past that never was, at least not quite the way we remember
For our memories can contain truth and still be a lie
When the memories of the past overwhelm our imagination for the future
Or our appreciation of the present, then our homecomings will always be sad
Freighted with the expectations that they can never live up to
Loaded with a past too heavy for the ambiguity of the present to stand
We can look into the mirror of our desires trying to create a better past
But perhaps instead of continuing to attempt to touch up the painting of the past
We can begin the new canvas that stands before us blank awaiting our brush

Neil White, 2016

Psalm 17- An Embodied Prayer



Psalm 17
<A Prayer of David.>
1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me,
   you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
   O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
8 Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,
9 from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush.
13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, overthrow them!
    By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,
14 from mortals– by your hand, O LORD– from mortals whose portion in life is in this world.
    May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them;
    may their children have more than enough; may they leave something over to their little ones.
 15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
     when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

I have been guilty at times of trying to restrict my faith to my mind and yet the great commandment from Deuteronomy 6: 5 involves not just the thinking part of our body but heart, soul and might. The Psalms involve the senses, the feelings, the gut, the senses of touch and smell, they sometimes come from the honest and visceral reactions to the struggles and stresses of the world the Psalmist lives in. The Psalms, like many songs, touch us in places other than the primarily rational and logical places of a systematic mind and perhaps that is why they can be so powerful. The Psalms, like many honest prayers, emerge out of an unsteady heart or the uneasy stomach and they may carry in them the bile of betrayal or the salt of sadness. The Psalms, like poetry, pay attention to the sensations, the feelings and the world around the poet and bring those into their relationship with their God who attends to their cries and gives ears to their prayers. The speak with the honesty from lips free of deceit in an embodied way because they are songs of the heart, prayers of the gut, and the poetry that brings to voice the perception of the senses. Read through this Psalm and notice the constant mention of the senses and body parts of the Psalmist, God, the enemy and the people. It is the embodied pray of an embodied faith.

The Psalmist’s walk of faith is that which treads the paths of righteousness, which avoids the ways of the violent and who does not follow the path of the wicked. Their faith is a journey of continually choosing the path spoken of by the LORD rather than the easier and more seductive ways of violence and lies, or acquisition and accumulation. Perhaps they are praying on their own or perhaps they are the leader of a faithful community attempting to live with justice in an unjust world. Their words and their walk are connected as they await their LORD’s answer and vindication. They have attempted to live a life congruous with their calling as the people of God and faithful to the covenant with the living LORD.

The contrast between their words, their ways and their actions and those of their adversaries is poetically striking. The enemy is deadly like a lion laying an ambush, their hearts are pitiless, their mouths speak boastful and arrogant words, they surround and despoil, their teeth tear and rend. They become the embodiment of wickedness, violence, injustice and in this they are transformed into predators who feed on the vulnerable. Psalm 17 fits well in this set of Psalms where the arrogant persecute the poor and boast of the designs of their heart (Psalm 10), and fit their arrow to shoot at the upright in heart (Psalm 11). Who utter lies and speak from a double heart (Psalm 12) and who believe they will be able to say they have prevailed over the righteous (Psalm 13). Who say in their heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14).

The Psalmist can believe that they are the ones who may abide in the LORD’s tent and dwell on the LORD’s hill (Psalm 15) because their faith is embodied in their actions and words towards their neighbors. They can trust in the midst of all the other gods they could put their trust in that the LORD is their portion and cup (Psalm 16). That God will see and hear and respond. That God views them as the apple of the eye and hides them in the shadow of the LORD’s wings. The LORD will turn things around where the wicked will stumble and the righteous will rise. The bellies of the righteous will be filled with good things, their children will not know the hunger they are knowing, and their eyes shall see the glory of their LORD.

Sometimes we modern people have forgotten that we do not merely ‘think and so we are,’ but rather we are feeling beings who sometimes think as well. Our bodies, all of them are a part of our life of faith. Even Lutherans, like myself, who are so famous for our unemotional and detached rationality can remember with our namesake that “God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, field and livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life.” (Luther, 1978, p. 25) Perhaps, we too can learn from these embodied psalms to appreciate the way that faith uses more than just reason and mental faculties but body and soul, eyes, ears and all limbs and senses.

Psalm 16- Remaining Faithful in a Pluralistic Setting

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Psalm 16

<A Miktam of David.>
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy;
 in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
When I was growing up I assumed that the world of the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) which was written to the people of Israel and Judah was a world that was as monolithic as I assumed things were growing up in my own childhood. Just because everyone I knew growing up was associated with a Christian church and I think the church was still, at least the Lutheran churches I grew up within, operating out of a Christendom concept where everyone at least had a church that they belonged to (even if they didn’t regularly or ever attend). I was wrong about the world that I grew up in and I was wrong about the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps being a pastor I have a heightened awareness to the other things that have placed their claims upon people’s lives and I do believe that the church is losing the privileged place it once held in society. There are so many competing voices that the church deals with (and perhaps the church has always dealt with) and I know I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can address the questions that are a part of our world while remaining faithful to the core ideas of my faith.

In Psalm 16 the Psalmist is attempting to remain faithful in the midst of an atmosphere that has several religious choices. The Psalm itself may be from a priest or from David (as its it is attributed to) but in their attempts at faithfulness they feel isolated. The holy ones of the land, presumably those who are remaining faithful, seem to be in conflict with those who are either turning away to other religious options or who are trying to blend together the worship of the LORD with gods like Baal and Asherah (treating the LORD as one among many). Perhaps the Psalmist is trying to distinguish between himself and the others who are willing to present offerings to other gods and take their names upon their lips. The Psalmist in their gut (in verse seven where it speaks in the NRSV translation of my heart instructs me this is literally my kidneys, the guts-where feelings come from in Hebrew thought) knows that what they are doing is right, but it may be unpopular. The more I spend time with the Hebrew Scriptures, the more I realize that there were few, if any, times where the people exclusively worshipped the LORD.

In our own day we too have to struggle with how to remain faithful in a pluralistic world, where many of the other messages may not be associated with another religion but instead may be reflective of the consumeristic society, the allegiance to states, various political ideologies or the continued pressures of a society where entertainment and sports occupy a huge amount of the public’s loyalty. None of these are bad things but they are penultimate (less that ultimate, secondary things). There are many things that may demand our tribute, our own blood offerings. Yet, I think the challenge in this and every age is to trust in the LORD, to know in one’s gut that one’s faith in the LORD is well placed, and even in the midst of other alternatives to let our heart be glad, our soul rejoice and our body secure in the portion that the LORD has allotted to us.

Psalm 15- Entering the Sacred Presence of God

The Temple by

The Temple by

Psalm 15

 <A Psalm of David.>
1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends,
  nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD;
  who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
  Those who do these things shall never be moved.

How does one prepare to enter the sacred spaces of the world, those places where the presence of the divine makes holy the profane? In many cultures there are a number of rituals one must undergo to purify oneself and prepare to enter the holy places of the world-those places where heaven and earth seem to meet. Even within the Bible there are places where there are actions that the priest must do to prepare for their tasks and in places like Leviticus 21: 17-21 and Deuteronomy 23: 1-6 there are limits placed upon who may enter the tabernacle or the temple to serve. Yet here, in Psalm 15, as is frequently the case in the Psalms and prophets there is no physical requirements, exclusions or cultic actions that prepares one to enter into the house of the LORD, instead the focus is on the way one lives out one’s relationship with one’s neighbor. Perhaps echoing this Psalm, the prophet Micah can say:

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6: 6-8

In contrast to the duplicitous hearts in Psalm 12 and those who say in their hearts “there is no God” as in Psalm 14, stand the righteous ones who speak truth from the heart and who honor and fear God are allowed to enter into the presence of God.  It is one’s life in relation to one’s neighbor that prepares one to enter into the temple or tabernacle, one’s life in the mundane life of community that is the preparation for the sacred encounter with God. Loving one’s neighbor and living as truthful and righteous people toward the community is preparation for encountering God in the promised communion. As Rolf Jacobson can state, “when the Lord extends an invitation for a person to enter the sacred space, God insists that one’s neighbors are also invited.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 173)

This short Psalm has a number of phrases that point towards what a life that is prepared to see God’s presence not only in the holy spaces but in the normal secular spaces of life as well. Speaking truth from one’s heart refers both to a person whose speech reflect truly their own character but also their character is pure and peaceful as well. The refuse to speak of a neighbor in a way that compromises the person’s participation within the community but instead as Martin Luther can talk about in his explanation to the eighth commandment:

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. (Luther, A Contemporary Translation of Luther’s Small Catechism, 1978, p. 20)

While we may struggle a little initially with the language of, “in whose eyes the wicked are despised” there is a strong need for the community not to tolerate or ignore things that are contrary to the justice their God has called for. When we turn a blind eye or accept, for example, the abuse of children or the oppression of the homeless then we have also turned away from the God who cares for the children and the vulnerable. After wrestling with Deuteronomy and Jeremiah I’ve come to appreciate the urgency the people of Israel felt for attempting to create a society that lived into the vision God called them to. A trustworthy society where the words and actions represented the God’s dream for them and the world. A society where mercy for one’s neighbor was more important than profit one could make upon one’s neighbor by charging interest to them in their need.

The Psalm is a bold vision and a vision that is challenging in our time. It is a vision that looks at holiness in terms of how we treat our neighbors rather than some version of piety or orthodoxy. In this Psalm and in many other places, particularly in the Psalms and prophets, issues of proper attire or cultic actions are disregarded or at least given a far lower place than one’s relationship with the neighbor. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus can echo this sentiment when he talks about leaving one’s gift before the altar to be reconciled to one’s neighbor (Matthew 5: 23-24). In contrast to the previous three Psalms, where one finds oneself in the position where the wicked seem to be prospering, the Psalmist now returns to the vision of the first Psalm, where the LORD watches over the righteous and they will not be moved. Their words and their actions truthfully come out of their heart and even when their truthful words and actions or their willingness to stand with their neighbor causes them hurt they are not moved. They look at the world through the lens of mercy rather than profit, through the lens of love rather than acquisition and they are perhaps ready to enter into the sacred spaces of the world where God meets them because they lived a godly life in the secular places of life.