O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever. (NRSV)
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.
Mr. Rogers reminds us that, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” I don’t know if Mr. Rogers was thinking specifically of Psalm 136, but the word most often used for God’s love is Hesed/khesed and the refrain found is this psalm “makes it clear that hesed is action; the wonders are a performance of hesed.” Mays p. 420 This love is all that God is and in all that God does. “The word khesed is translated many ways by English translations: loving-kindness, kindness, steadfast love, love, loyalty, devotion, faithfulness, and mercy.” Schlimm p. 123 And yet, our struggle to translate the word hardly compares to our struggle to understand it, let alone respond to it.
For Saint Catherine of Siena, the response to God’s great love is to beg for mercy, for herself and for all of creation. It is as if encountering God’s amazing love makes her desire to be more like God so she confesses her of sin and asks for mercy for others. These are her words in an excerpt from The Dialogue, “Why did you so dignify us? With unimaginable love you looked upon your creatures within your very self, and you fell in love with us. So it was love that made you create us and give us being just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good. Then I see how by our sin we lost the dignity you had given us…. So you gave us your only-begotton Son, your Word…. We are your image, and now by making yourself one with us you have become our image, veiling your enteral divinity in the wretched cloud and dung heap of Adam. And why? For love! You, God, became human and we have been made divine! In the name of this unspeakable love, then, I beg you – I would force you even! – to have mercy on your creatures.” p.77 Ronda De Sola Chervin “Prayers of the Women Mystics” 1992 Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Let us pray:
Kristen mentioned to me that when she does a breath prayer she often thinks of whatever she is exhaling other people will inhale. So, sometimes she breathes in and breaths out the same idea with the hope that what she receives from God, she can share with others. For example, you may imagine receiving God’s steadfast love while praying that others are receiving God’s steadfast love.
God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your love and release my sin. 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:
“This psalm, which in the tradition of late Judaism was also called the ‘Great Hallel’, is preserved the form in which it was recited in the cult, and has its parallel in Christian worship in the litany (cf. Kyrie eleison). The first half of each verse of this liturgy in the form of a hymn is to be thought of as having been sung the by priest (priestly choir), and the congregation responded to it by singing each time the identical antiphon ‘for his grace endures forever’ (on this antiphony cf. Pss. 106.1; 107.1; 118.1; Ezra 3.11; and all II Chron. 7.3, where it appears in the from of homage paid by the festal congregation at the theophany that took place on the occasion of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple).” OTL p. 792
“Psalm 136 is a liturgical use of tradition whose interest is the way past impinges on the present and shapes the future. The events recalled outrun those which find their way into the usual historical records because they bear forth the identity of the LORD whose steadfast love comprehends all time.” Mays p. 418
“”Wonders” is the collective term used here (v. 4) and in the other historical psalms (78:4; 105:2; 5; 106:2, “mighty doings”) for the items that compose the recitations. it is a liturgical and confessional term for the recognition and claim that certain events are so marvelous and extraordinary as to transcend the normal and the usual. Wonders are special happening enacted by the diving power and purpose. In the other historical psalms, the wonders are all occurrences in the story of the LORD’s way with Israel, and the items are selected and their telling shaped to suit the purpose of the psalm. Here the wonders are recited as an exposition of the name of the LORD. the liturgical logic is not so much to thank the LORD for doing all these things, but rather to thank the one whose identity is constituted and known in and through these wonders.” Mays p. 419
“Hesed is the characteristic and activity of reliable helpfulness, the attribute of the LORD most often praise and appealed to in the Psalms …. The coordination of the items in the recitation with the refrain makes it clear that hesed is action; the wonders are a performance of hesed.” Mays p. 420
“Israel’s story is a witness to the LORD’s hesed saving “his servant Israel” (v. 22). But, says the recital, even creation displays the steadfast love of the LORD. Heaven and earth and day and night are the work of the LORD’s steadfast love; all life is lived and supported by the LORD’s helpfulness.” Mays p. 420
“The classical story is always being brought up to date by the congregation. The church of the New Testament will add its own testimony to the work of God’s steadfast love. His steadfast love is indeed everlasting.” Mays pp. 420-421
“Whatever the case, the key term used, “steadfast love,” bespeaks YHWH’s trustworthiness and tenacity in fulfilling the covenant obligation to protect and guarantee Israel’s well-being. The movement of the whole psalm attests to YHWH’s attentiveness to those of “low estate,” which in this case is Israel in its weakness and vulnerability (v. 23). All historical memory is seen as a drama of YHWH’s transformative investment in the life of Israel and the life of the world.” Brueggemann p. 134
“This word appears about 250 times in the Hebrew Bible. Unlike the English word “love,” khesed is fairly specific about the type of love envisioned. It’s not primarily romantic, sexual, or about gushy feelings. In fact, it’s never found in the Song of Songs, the Bible’s most romantic book. Khesed has to do less with infatuation and more with faithfulness. It’s about loving someone, come what may. It’s about commitment. It’s about tenacity and stick-with-it-ness. The word khesed is translated many ways by English translations: loving-kindness, kindness, steadfast love, love, loyalty, devotion, faithfulness, and mercy.” Schlimm p. 123
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.
McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim 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, 6th Sunday 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.
The Apocalyptic Discourse 15th -19th Sundays in Ordinary time: 15th Sunday Psalm 17:8-14(15) or Psalm 83, 16th Sunday Psalm 54, 17th Sunday Psalm 50 or Psalm 105, 18th Sunday Psalm 59, and 19th Sunday Psalm 37.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ 24th – 33rd Sundays in Ordinary time: 24th Sunday Psalm 92, 25th Sunday Psalm 25, 26th Sunday Psalm 136, 27th Sunday Psalm 41, 29thSunday Psalm 38 or Psalm 55, 30th Sunday Psalm 33: (1-10) 13-22, 31st Sunday Psalm 31 or Psalm 40, 32nd Sunday Psalm 71:15-24, 33rd Sunday Psalm 77, Christ the King Psalm 87 and Psalm 117, and All Saints Day Psalm 107.