O Lord, you have searched me and known me. (Psalm 139:1)
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 139:
In his commentary, James Mays says, “The psalmist speaks about self by speaking to God and speaks about God by speaking as a self.” (Mays p. 427). The relationship between God and the psalmist is so connected it is intertwined deeply. The psalmist is fully known by God. To be fully known is to be completely vulnerable. Being vulnerable can be scary, but it can also lead to a deeply connected love. The psalmist finds great comfort and love in this connection. In seminary, I learned to call this being united to Christ. And in some recent continuing education classes, I’ve learned that this is what Julian of Norwich calls oneing. It’s an English word she made up to describe this complete connectedness with God. For Julian, the point of prayer is to be oned with God. She and other mystics think of our relationship with God starting with the goodness of creation and the connection we share will God and all of creation. They emphasize God’s love for the good that God created. Even in the diversity in all of creation, we are all one in God. That doesn’t mean sameness but unity.
I will be using Mirabai Starr’s translation of Julian’s words which are too beautiful to paraphrase. She says, “I understand that the human soul is created out of nothing; that is to say, it is not created out of any created thing. … But when he made our souls, he used no materials at all. And so human nature was created rightly one-ed with the Creator, who is Essential Nature, Uncreated, that is, God. This is why there is absolutely nothing separating the Divine Soul from the Human Soul.” (The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation by Mirabai Starr p. 147). Julian goes on to describe God’s love for humanity, “…wherever the blessed soul of Christ is, there too is the essence of all souls. We would be right to rejoice that God dwells within our own souls, and even more so that our souls dwell in God. Our soul was created to be God’s dwelling place, and he who is uncreated is also the place where we dwell.” (p. 149)
Julian wasn’t commenting particularly on Psalm 139, but I think I can see the oneness of God that Julian describes in this psalm. A more modern feminist commentary, Wisdom Commentary, suggests that the psalmist wasn’t limiting the connectedness to her experience with God in the present, but saw connections with the past and possibly future. In verse 13 the Hebrew word translated as “formed” occurs in this Psalm and “three other times in the Hebrew Bible in the sense of begetting a child. …. In Psalm 139 we may be permitted to see the psalm singer voicing a connection between her own “forming” and the first child of humanity (Gen 4:1), the children of Israel (Deut. 32:6), and Woman Wisdom (Prov 8:22).” W p. 263
As we pray today, let us meditate on God’s love and our oneness with God and with all of creation.
Lord, search me and know me. Make me one with you.
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.
Nicole Cardoza’s Guided Meditation For Anxiety
Try this short meditation, created by Yoga Foster and Reclamation Ventures founder Nicole Cardoza, the next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious. Read in Yoga Journal.
Mr. Roger’s “Taking a breath” This one is short, but Mr. Roger’s voice is calming for me (and many Pittsburghers) and even his virtual presence can summon childhood memories of calmness and safety.
Let us pray:
One way to think about breath prayer is that whatever is exhaled other people will inhale. So, sometimes we might inhale and exhale the same idea with the hope that what we receive from God, we can share with others. For example, you may imagine receiving God’s steadfast love while praying that others are receiving God’s steadfast love.
Another way to think about breath prayer is to pick something you would like to receive for your inhalation and something you would like to release for your exhalation. The idea is to keep it simple, so I encourage you to simply find one word for each inhale and one word for each exhale. That simple prayer could be something like this: God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your gaze and release my vulnerability.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: Search me and know me. Make me one with you.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“Psalm 139 is the most personal expression in Scripture of the Old Testament’s radical monotheism. It is a doctrinal classic because it portrays human existence in all its dimensions in terms of God’s knowledge, presence, and power. It reflects an understanding of the human as enclosed in divine reality. The psalm is even more a devotional classic, because used as prayer it bestows and nurtures an awareness of the LORD as the total environment of life. It teaches and confesses in the fullest way that “my times are in your hand” (31:15).” Mays p. 425
“The whole has the cadence of a faith that trusts itself to a being known by the LORD that includes discernment of the self, presence to the self, and creation of the self. The psalm is a spiritual achievement that transcends the limits and functions of the usual types.” Mays p. 427
“The psalmist speaks about self by speaking to God and speaks about God by speaking as a self.” Mays p. 427
“Psalm 139 is the second in a collection of eight psalms of David at the end of book 5. Like Psalm 138, it is classified as an individual hymn of thanksgiving, praising God for goodness to or on behalf of the psalm singer, usually for deliverance from some trying situation.” W p. 258
“Four verses of the psalm, 19-22, stand in stark contrast with the rest. They are often omitted in reading and studying the psalm, but scholars suggest that they may provide the hermeneutical key to understanding the circumstance under which it was composed. …. In this context of conflict and hostility the psalm singer speaks in trust and thankfulness for God’s presence.” W pp. 259-260
In verse 13 the Hebrew word translate as “formed” occurs in this Psalm and “three other times in the Hebrew Bible in the sense of begetting a child. …. In Psalm 139 we may be permitted to see the psalm singer voicing a connection between her own “forming” and the first child of humanity (Gen 4:1), the children of Israel (Deut. 32:6), and Woman Wisdom (Prov 8:22).” W p. 263
“The presence of such love invites both fierce loyalty (vv. 19-22) and sweet surrender (vv. 23-24).” NIB p. 697
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.
W de Claisse-Walford, Nancy L. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 4-5. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 22. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2020.
W Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 2-3. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 21. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2016.
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.
I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom. Many churches use the revised common lectionary that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years 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. Reflections exploring the Psalms in year D. While we were using Year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A. Now that we are rejoining those who use the lectionary, we are on Year B. This we hope will keep all of us planning and preparing worship on the same page.
I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections when I’m following the Revised Common Lectionary.
Other Year B Psalm blog posts:
Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 80, 2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 85, 3rd Sunday in Advent Psalm 126, 4th Sunday in Advent Psalm 89, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Psalm 148, New Year’s Day Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Christmas Psalm 147, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 139, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 62, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 111, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 147, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 50