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 55, I chose to read the translation from the Word Biblical Commentary:
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.
I remember the first time I felt betrayed by a friend. I was in middle school. I can still remember what I was wearing, a red and white flannel shirt, blue jeans, white Keds, and of course a white scrunchy on my left wrist. I still remember the boy’s sandy brown hair and glasses. I don’t remember what he was wearing, but it was the early 90s so you can imagine what was typical. I still remember his mom and little sister too. They had been in my home to help my mom plan for and elementary school fashion show fundraiser a few times. I really thought of them as family friends more than acquaintances. I remember his mom talking to my mom about his little sister’s prosthetic arm. I don’t remember the exact conversation but I remember it felt vulnerable, like the way my mom talked to her church friends. But this family wasn’t from our church, we only knew them through our elementary school.
The betrayal happened in English class, during some sort of group work. He looked at me and said, “smile for a second”. I remember wondering if I had something stuck in my braces, so I smiled and brought my hand up thinking he was going to tell me where some of my lunch still was. We were friends after all, and friends do point that stuff out so you don’t walk around with lettuce in your teeth all day. Then he said, “I want to see the braces my tax dollars are paying for”. I was humiliated. And angry. Wait, he was a kid, he didn’t pay taxes. I realized that must have been something his parents said. I was even more angry. I thought his mom was my mom’s friend. As those thoughts flashed through my head, I remember not being able to see. Blind anger. I don’t think I said anything back to him… and if I did I don’t remember… and if I did, it was probably mean. Like the psalmist said in verse 15, “Go to hell”. I also remember thinking that I should probably just be friends with the kids from my church and the police department. That felt safer.
If #bluelivesmatter had been a thing back then, that’s what that moment felt like. There were many other moments like that in my life, at least while I still lived in my hometown. Being a “cop spawn” (a name I was called more than I can count) was a little like what I imagine it is like to be a teacher’s kid or a preacher’s kid. People would stop conversations when I walked into a room and I knew I wasn’t ever going to be invited to any high school parties. Oddly enough, there was always more than one person claiming to be my good friend at those parties. My dad didn’t believe them, and neither did I. Once I left home and went to college, moments like that became fewer. It was an identity that I did eventually shed. Taking off the blue uniform is easier for some than others. But shedding the blue is possible. Shedding skin color is not.
I’m not angry about it anymore, but even as I type this story I can tell that my feelings about it aren’t completely resolved either. Let’s just say I won’t be going to the 20 year reunion (even after it’s been rescheduled because of COVID-19). Betrayal is hard. And when I was in middle school I wasn’t seeing a therapist to help me work that out, I didn’t want to tell my parents and have them feel betrayed too, and I didn’t know I was allowed to angry-pray at God yet either. If life has taught me anything, it’s that we all need a good therapist that is completely covered by our healthcare. And if the psalmists have taught me anything, it’s that we all need to angry-pray every now and then.
So, let’s look at why the psalmist is angry-praying. First, the psalmist is living through some sort of danger and persecution. Second, the city’s social conditions are deplorable. And finally, the psalmist was betrayed by a close friend. For these reasons, the Psalmist contemplates fleeing to the wilderness, which is scary, but it’s at least different from the current terrible circumstances the psalmist is facing. I would be willing to bet that many people can relate to living in a reality much like what the psalmist describes, with the danger of COVID-19, the unrest over racial injustice in our country, and having personal difficulties as well. Maybe we have contemplated running away to the wilderness too. But keep in mind that, “…the wilderness is never in itself a goal in biblical traditions but is a transition place for the passage of the people of God to some other place. The Land of the Promise lies beyond the wilderness.” (WBC p. 59) More modern takes on wilderness may say the wilderness is a time of transition in churches. (I can hear some groans from Third Church, we’ve been in transition for a while now, I don’t think anyone would consider running into more transitional time just to avoid today’s problems).
I think that Psalm 55 does offer us encouragement that God will provide, “though not necessarily deliver, and not necessarily provide a way out or remove all the enemies and change all the bad situations, but he will provide the strength and resources to deal with life as it comes. The promise is that he will sustain.” (WBC pp. 59-60). Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Let us pray:
Holy and Gracious God, we confess that we have often seen things upside down. We have made a habit of following blind guides rather than fully trusting in your Word, and have risked falling into the Pit. We confess that we have been afraid to see what you would show us, to hear what you would say to us. We find ourselves in a stupor. We have forgotten who we are and you who has made us in your image and we question why you have made us this way. Forgive us. Give ear to our prayer, and do not hide yourself from our supplications. For we are hemmed in by sin. Redeem us unharmed from the battles we wage, for many forces and foes are arrayed against us. Nevertheless, we will trust in you to hear us as we call upon you, to save us from the wages of sin, and train us up in godliness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (Adapted from Timothy Matthew Slemmons’ Year D Greater Attention, Liturgical Elements for Reformed Worship).
God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your faithfulness and release my disloyalty. 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:
Is this really two psalms? There are text problems, unusual words, and it feels disorderly. NIB, Mayes and Weiser say its best to keep is as one psalm and think of the abrupt problems as a reflection of the psalmists personal circumstances and struggles. Does anyone really make any sense when they are upset?
“Some interpreters have noted and emphasized those places in the psalms that seem to identify the speaker as a person who has been accused of something. Noting places in the Old Testament where legal cases could be handled at the sanctuary (e.g., Exod. 22:8-9; Deut. 17:8-13; 19:15-21; 21:1-9; 1 Kings 8:31-32), Hans Schmidt suggested that a number of individual laments arise out of fate language and activity of a sacral judicial procedure in the sanctuary in which one who claimed to be falsely accused prayed to God against his or her enemies (accusers) and received from the priests the verdict of God, which if favorable then elicited a further prayer of thanksgiving.” Miller p. 5
“When something is the pits, it is so bad it is hopeless. That experience rings through the psalms, and there is a core of imagery–one could add to it the experience of darkness and the affirmations of light that comes from the Lord–that gives full and vivid expression to this human existence, indeed, makes a point of contact with what many of us experience, far more than any psychological analysis could ever do. Other images and typical experiences may be mentioned much more briefly: [There are a long list of examples here.] (i) the experience of God’s help, of being given elbow room, a broad place where the petitioner is no longer trapped in, hemmed in, surrounded, and caught, but is free, has space, has room to be his or her own person (e.g., in Pss. 4:1; 18:19; 36; 31:8; 55:12; 118:5; 119:45)” Miller pp. 24-25
“The psalmist describes the hostility that afflicts him in terms of general urban lawlessness (vv. 9-11) and betrayal by a covenant partner of his intimate circle (vv. 12-14, 20-21). The violence and strife of his city and the scorn of his closest friends are experienced as the ver terrors of death (vv. 4-5). Jeremiah once spoke of a wish to flee to the wilderness to escape a collapsing society in which even neighbors were dangerous (Jer. 9:2-9). There is a similar lament over social chaos in Micah 7:1-6 that probably reflect post exilic conditions. Perhaps these are hints of the circumstances for which the prayer was composed.” Mays p. 207
“The theme of betrayal by friends also occurs in other prayers (see Pss 31:11; 35:12-15; 38:11; 49:9; 88:8, 18), and it is simply not possible to identify precisely the situations behind these prayers.” NIB p. 455
55:12-15 “The suppliant’s distress is greatly increased because of the unfaithfulness of a trusted friend. The taunts of an enemy would be expected and could be borne with relative ease. In v. 13 the enemy is said to be a former close friends, who had shared fellowship with the suppliant in the temple during the happy times of the festivals (v. 15). The language is too general for any specific identification, and vv. 14-15 represent a common elements of distress in human affairs.” WBC P. 57 Remember WBC numbers the first line/title so the verses listed are one off from what is listed in most Bibles.
“Verse 15, which essentially tells the enemies to “Go to hell,” recalls Numbers 16, where Korah and his company “go down alive to Sheol” (Num 16:30 NRSV; see also Num 16:33), which represents the realm and power of death (see Pss 18:5; 88:3; 116:3).” NIB p. 456
“Verse 19 makes explicit what was implied in vv. 9-11: The enemies of the psalmist are also opponents of God. Verses 16-19 profess the eschatological faith that pervades the book of Psalms: The power of God is ultimately greater than the power of the wicked. Although it may appear otherwise for now, God rules the world.” NIB p. 456
“While it is possible to construe v. 22a as the sarcastic words of the enemy addressed to the psalmist, it is more likely that it should be understood as the psalmist’s encouraging word to others, and this is certainly the way v. 22 has been appropriated in the history of its interpretation. The invitation is followed by an affirmation of God’s care for the righteous. The pronoun “he” is emphatic; God will provide. Amid the chaos caused by the wicked, God offers stability.” NIB pp. 456-457
“psalms like this one encourage us to acknowledge our own pain and that of others and thus “to emerge from isolation”. If they were used regularly in worship, “it might encourage people to consider worship as the appropriate place to cast their burden upon the Lord.” In short, Psalm 55 can still function as a faithful prayer and as a powerful profession of the faith that the sustaining power of God is ultimately great than the power of human sin and its painful effects.” NIB p. 457 NIB is quoting Stephen P. McCutchan, “A Parable of Liturgy”, reformed Liturgy and Music 26 (Summer 1992) 139-40.
“The wilderness, of course, is quite deceptive, as it may be the place of dire human needs and of death. Perhaps it is well to remember that the wilderness is never in itself a goal in biblical traditions but is a transition place for the passage of the people of God to some other place. The Land of the Promise lies beyond the wilderness.” WBC p. 59
“Yahweh will provide for such a person, though not necessarily deliver, and not necessarily provide a way out or remove all the enemies and change all the bad situations, but he will provide the strength and resources to deal with life as it comes. The promise is that he will sustain.” WBC pp. 59-60
“The realism of these psalms is a reminder of the anguish of life for so may in the cities of the world. We look for the city “built as a city should be” (Ps 122:3), one with good foundations “whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10), but in the meantime we live by faith in vile cities where Violence and Strife are the watchmen on the walls and Oppression and Deceit do business in the public square.” WBC p. 60
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 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.