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.

6 thoughts on “Psalm 17- An Embodied Prayer

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