Click on the link for the Psalm above (my links show up as red words) or find it in your favorite Bible or digital Bible or listen to Psalm :
Bonus: The Lord’s Prayer is about the amount of time you need for hand scrubbing 😉
Breath Prayer: I am including breath prayers because this is the practice that I engage in most often. Sometimes, I simply manage my breathing as I would when I was singing as a warmup and strengthening exercise. This practice helps me to feel centered, strong, and connected with myself and the divine. Sometimes, I add words or intentions for the inhalation and exhalation.
Psalm 74 was written by and for people who are grieving that the world is not how they thought it was supposed to be. The first section of the psalm is a lament. It feels like God has abandoned them because the temple has been destroyed. The place where the community gathered to worship; where they felt God’s presence and power in a real way; the place they thought was their sanctuary forever, is gone. Maybe it’s worse than gone, it was destroyed; desecrated by their enemies; the people they were sure God would protect them from. The grief is overwhelming. All of the worshipers are grieving.
As Brene Brown would say, this sucks. In her book, Dare to Lead, she recalls a story about missing her daughter’s big field hockey match because of a flight cancelation and how her friend Suzanne who was also stuck in the airport with her showed her empathy. Brene says, “So often, when someone is in pain, we’re afraid to say, “Yes, this hurts. Yes, this is a big deal. Yes, this sucks.” We think our job is to make things better, so we minimize the pain. But Suzanne didn’t minimize my pain. She had the courage to reflect back to me the truth of how I was feeling, which was that I was destroyed that I couldn’t be there for this big night for my daughter. She chose practicing empathy over her own comfort.” (p. 139). Brene was upset that it was her daughter’s last field hockey game that she and the other seniors would be honored during that night. Then she started minimizing the event, it wasn’t like the temple had been destroyed, it wasn’t as if someone had died, it wasn’t… you know the list, we all make this list of things that are worse than what we are experiencing so that we can minimize our own pain. Brene calls this comparative suffering and it does more harm than good. All suffering can be met with empathy so we don’t have to rank suffering and only give empathy to the person experiencing the ‘worst’ pain. Suzanne wasn’t going to let Brene make a list of worse things either. She continued to affirm that what Brene was going through was a big deal and it does hurt. She didn’t minimize Brene’s pain or allow Brene to minimize her own pain. She simply sat with her in the uncomfortable pain. And when they finally got a flight home, she held Brene’s hand as she cried at the moment she knew the game was starting. A couple hours later when Brene announced that the game was over, Suzanne asked if we had pictures yet. (She didn’t say out loud how thankful she was that this ordeal was over). Brene says, “She asked if we had pictures yet. She was still in it because I was still in it. It was so hard. But I never felt alone.” (p.142)
What the psalmist is describing is hard. It was a painful experience for all of those who worshipped at the temple. It sucked for everyone. But what I noticed about Brene’s situation and the psalmist situation, and really, our situation, is that we are not alone. The psalmist and the other worshippers did not have the convenience of zoom meetings but they did gather together to talk to God. Even in a time of crisis, they turned to God in faith. They remember who God is. The God who created everything out of chaos. The God who favors the marginalized. The God who is always with us even when it seems bleak. And as the people of God we are called to the kind of hope that enables us to proclaim the reign of God in circumstances that seem to deny it. And we are all living in at least a few of those circumstances now: Covid-19, worshiping without being physically together, and living in a time when the racial injustice in our country is bubbling over. It really feels like a breaking point. How do we proclaim the reign of God now? How do we continue to worship? How do we continue to grow relationships with our community? And how to we simply just deal with all of the situations that suck right now?
Psalm 74 reminds me that we are called to be empathetic and to be with one another so that none of us feel alone. This togetherness is one of the marks of a worshiping community. It is important to be with one another and also with those whom we see as outside of our community. Particularly, in this moment in history, that means to be with black people. I’m discovering that being anti-racist requires me not only to oppose systematic racism but to rid my own self of racism. That means I can’t avoid being uncomfortable. My privilege allows me to enter into conversations around race and then exit when I feel uncomfortable. The color of my skin allows me to experience life without being aware of how race impacts me or other people. But, as a Christian and as a pastor I am called to be uncomfortable. I am called to be in community with all of the people of God; not just those who look and think like me. One of the committees I serve on in Pittsburgh Presbytery decided to intentionally have and uncomfortable conversation around race for during our devotional time. And it was very uncomfortable, but it was a place where we were able to be vulnerable about our uncomfortableness. It would be a breach of trust for me to say more than that, but I’m sharing this example hoping that it will encourage others to find their people with whom they can have hard conversations and hold the uncomfortable tension for a time. It is in this tension that we learn and grow and love. It is this tension that allows us to find the racism that exists within us and to sit with it. When something rubs us the wrong way we should pay attention to that and examine it. And we should lift our uncomfortable and broken hearts up to God, to trust that God can bring healing to our hearts and to our world.
I feel the urge to do something or fix something but truthfully, the situation we are in with covid-19, racism, and general unrest don’t have easy fixes. However being an empathetic person means that I can’t jump in and fix (not that I even know what and how to fix). What is needed is intentional being-with-ness. The kind of being with others that is empathetic and vulnerable but holding boundaries so that I don’t become sucked into darkest despair. I have to hold on to faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.
Let us pray:
God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your hope and release my frustration. You can always pick different words for your breath prayer. But the idea of a breath prayer is to keep it simple so I encourage you to simply find one word for each inhale and one word for each exhale.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“Psalm 74 is a communal lament/complaint that confronts in corporate terms the same problem faced by the individual in Psalm 73: the apparent triumph of the wicked. …. [The literary links between these two psalms] suggest that Psalms 73 and 74 should be heard together, and they reinforce the impression that Psalm 73 offers a model for the whole people in confronting the prosperity of the wicked.” NIV p. 507
“After the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 587 BCE at the hands of the Babylonians, Israel entered into a season of lamentation that required truth telling that contradicted the high claims made in the Songs of Zion. One powerful script for that season of lament is the book of Lamentations, five poems that showcase Israel in its profound loss. That season of grief also includes Psalm 74 in the wake of the destruction. This is a characteristic lament voiced by the community, but with reference to Israel’s defining crisis.” Brueggemann p. 82
The psalm can be divided into three sections: grief vv. 1-11, doxology vv. 12-17, and petition vv. 18-23. “Verses 1-11 grieve the loss of the city and the temple by a detailed description of the destruction. …. The second part of the psalm is a vigorous doxology concerning God’s great power (12-17).” Brueggemann p. 82
The word translated as sign “can designate either a physical emblem, such as a flag (see “ensigns” in Num 2:2 NRSV) or a revelatory action of God. In either sense, there is no visible sign of God and no prophets to deliver a word from God (v. 9b; see Lam 2:9). In short, no one knows anything, including how long God will be absent (v. 9c).” NIB p. 508
“It has the sense of a desperate seeking on the part of those who are trying to find a way through God’s seeming alienation; an absence which goes beyond momentary experience to become and ongoing travail.” WBC p. 253
“The doxology witnesses to God’s greatness to the nations who might have concluded that the Good of Israel is an impotent wimp. But more than that, the doxology is addressed to God, reminding and summoning God to use God’s own power on behalf of God’s desecrated temple and wounded city.” Brueggamann p. 83
“Leviathan seems to be another name for the Sea-Monster, who is described as a coiled serpent with seven heads” WBC p. 251
“The recital of saving deeds conflates myth and history. It draws on a narrative a-stern widespread in ancient Near Eastern myth and on Israel’s experience with the LORD in they really history. The interweaving speaks of the victory over primeval chaos and establishment of the world over and of Israel’s passage through the sea and wilderness in the sea breath. In the myth a god becomes king by achieving mastery over primeval chaos in the from of water (sea, rivers). The water is dramatized as seven-headed Leviathan, as dragons. When the chaos water is mastered, its bounds are set, order is established, creation in its ancient Near Easter sense takes place. The god established his kingship with the establishment of world order and builds a palace as royal site and residence. The story is one of the basic ways in which the ancients understood the world. Israel used motifs and sequences and figures from the story in a variety of modulations for its own liturgical and theological purposes. For other uses in the Psalms, see Psalms 77:17; 89:9-11; 104:5-11; and 114; for prophets, Isa. 51:9-11.” Mays p. 74
“in some ancient Near Eastern creation stories, the supreme deity defeats a monster and uses its body to fashion the universe. Such mythic imagery lies in the background of vv. 13-14 (see also Pls 77:16-19; 89:9-11; 93:3-4; 104:5-9; 114:1-6; Isa 51:9-11).” NIB p. 508
“The merging of exodus and creation imagery suggests that God’s creative activity Oisin itself salvific and that God’s activity in the exodus was not simply on behalf of Israel but involved the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the whole creation (see esp. exodus 9:16; see also Commentary on Psalms 33; 65; 66). Both God’s saving and creating work, which should not finally be separated, are testimony to God’s reign. The sevenfold occurrence of the Hebrew pronoun “you” in vv. 13-17 is emphatic, perhaps corresponding to the seven-headed chaos monster in some ancient Near Eastern myths, but in any case suggesting that God alone is sovereign.” NIB pp. 508-509
“However, personal address dominates these laments; they do not turn away from God but toward him in an act of faith.” WBC p. 253
In the final section of the psalm (petition) God is asked to remember and not forget to take care of the poor and needy and to rise against the wicked.
“The mention of covenant also serves to recall God’s past actions and the relationship God had established with the people (see Exodus 24:1-8; Ps 44:17). Given the people’s faith in God’s cosmic sovereignty (vv. 12-17), the petitions in vv. 18-23 function finally as an affirmation of the people’s true that God will “not forget the life of your poor forever” (v. 19; see Ps 9:18).” NIB p. 509
“this psalm is a prayer that speaks of God and the community and its central religious institution in a way that shows the fierce vitality of Israel’s faith in the LORD in the mines of the words of times.” Mays p. 244
“the reign of God is always proclaimed amid circumstances that seem to deny it: the destruction of the Temple and, in a later time, the executioner’s cross.” NIB p. 509
WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.
Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.
OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.
Other Year D Psalm blog posts:
I’m attempting a series exploring the Psalms in year D. Many churches use the revised common lectionary that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others.
I began this series in Lent 2020. These blog posts include examples of meditation or spiritual discipline or mindfulness exercises. Here are the links: Ash Wednesday: Psalm 102; 1st Sunday in Lent: Psalm 6; 2nd Sunday in Lent: Psalm 143; 3rd Sunday in Lent: Psalm 38; 4th Sunday in Lent: Psalm 39; 5th Sunday in Lent: Psalm 101; 6th Sunday in Lent Psalm 94 or Psalm 35. I went a different direction during Holy Week and dropped the Psalms for a while, but I’m hoping to pick them back up again.
I’m going to try to move forward with the Psalms so that it might be useful for worship in the coming weeks and hoping that I can also go back and pick up some of the ones I missed.
The Season of Easter: Resurrection of the Lord (Easter) Psalm 71:15-24 or Psalm 75 or Psalm 76, 2nd Sunday in Easter Psalm 64 or Psalm 119:73-96, 3rd Sunday in Easter Psalm 60 or 108, 4th Sunday in Easter Psalm 10, 5th Sunday in Easter Psalm 49: (1-12) 13-20, 6thSunday in Easter Psalm 129, Ascension Thursday Psalm 119:145-176, 7th Sunday in Easter Psalm 115, and Pentecost Sunday Psalm 119:113-136.
Then we move into “ordinary time” which is broken up into sections throughout the liturgical year. Remember that the year starts with Advent (I started this adventure in Lent) so some of the ordinary Sundays have already happened.
Trinity -Ordinary Time- Christ the King: Trinity Sunday Psalm 35, 9th Sunday in Ordinary time Psalm 142, 10th Sunday in Ordinary time Psalm 74, 11th Sunday Psalm 7, 12th Sunday Psalm 55, 13th Sunday Psalm 56, and 14th Sunday Psalm 57 or Psalm 3.