Whew. I had a weekend jam-packed with community, the majority of it spent at a women’s retreat through my church. I arrived home yesterday to a potluck with some of our social-justice-loving friends, a brief sojourn in my own airspace, a trip to the airport to pick up a Texas friend, and then, lastly, dinner with some philosophy faculty. I was in bed and sleeping by 9 pm.
Over those 48 hours, much food was consumed, stories told, laughter stifled (or not), tears cried, time shared, love spoken. You might hear some of those voices in the coming weeks as guest blog posts, and I for one am looking forward to it.
In the midst of all of that community and (sometimes) chaos, I spent a good amount of time with Psalm 1. So here’s a
Sabbath meditation, some food for thought to start off the week.
Without opening my Bible on Saturday afternoon, I could have told you that Psalm 1 was about the tree planted on the river bank. I knew it was one of those “good guys win/bad guys lose” messages. And I think it’s an important message coming on the heels of Job, the book just before Psalms in the Old Testament. Go read Psalm 1 here before continuing. Trust me, reread it even if you know it.
On Saturday, sitting on my bed at Shaker Village, trying to swallow an assigned dose of lectio divina, something wasn’t feeling right. You see, this psalm is not my lived experience. I know some really great folks who trust God a lot and really bad things have happened to them and the people they love. Or, as to keep it more in the metaphorical realm, even trees planted by the river bank sometimes get diseased and die.
It really isn’t hard to see that this psalm is not an antidote to the problem of evil in the world–bad things do happen to good people, good things do happen to bad people. Trusting God does not lead to prospering materially, being healthy, etc. (You can argue with me about this point, since I know many people believe it, but it really doesn’t mesh with Scripture as a whole or the testimony of the saints over the centuries.)
So one option we have is to just write off Psalm 1 as an “end times” sort of thing. “Well,” we can tell ourselves, “the bad guys will get what they deserve in the end.” When we say that and believe it, we don’t have to worry about those times when our lived experience feels dissonant with our understanding of Scripture. Faith is believing in things that are unseen, right? That’s what we remind ourselves in those moments, because that’s a truth we get from Scripture.
Here’s the thing. I’m not satisfied with this exegesis of Psalm 1. So as I sat on my bed, I prayed and read and wrote and prayed and read and wrote, and then I asked what it would mean if maybe this psalm is a testament to the way the world is. Right here. In our world. What happens when we assume that it is describing our very world, our very experience?
This is what happens: we realize our definitions are the problem. Our definitions of prospering, of condemnation, of God watching over our paths, those trite definitions we use in difficult circumstances to comfort each other, they’re what have gone awry in our interpretation.
So I began to consider new definitions.
What if “prospering” means knowing we are Loved and knowing how to Love? (Capitalization intentional.)
What if the “wicked” in this psalm are those who do not know how to give or receive Love?
What if God “watching over our path” really means that God shows us how to Love and points out opportunities to do so?
It’s kind of crazy, I know, but think on it if you have a few minutes today. How could this change us? How could this open up the message God is speaking to us through this ancient song book? And then pray this Psalm. Go ahead.
Tomorrow I’ll share my own “dynamic” translation of Psalm 1.