3 He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names. (NRSV)
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 147:
We have already reflected on this Psalm on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas (Psalm 147), but sometimes it’s good to go back and reread, even if it hasn’t been a long time since the first reading. It’s sort of like rewatching a favorite movie: We know how the movie will make us feel so we can use them to regulate our emotions, they can bring back happy memories or can offer safety in predictably, and most importantly in a time of pandemic, they require less emotional energy. My favorite move to rewatch is the very first Jurassic Park. Now it wasn’t meant to be a calming, peaceful, grounding movie, but because I’m so familiar with it, it does that for me. And each time I watch it I notice something else, a small detail, or I get a slightly different perspective on the plot. I have most of the lines memorized at this point and yet sometimes when I rewatch it I hear the music more than the words. I keep finding layers of meaning.
I think spiritual work can sometimes be like rewatching movies. Julian of Norwich received revelations which she wrote down that we call “the showings”. She continued to write about them throughout her life, revisiting the visions and metaphors to discover deeper richer meaning. She lived and wrote around the same time as Chaucer, although her works were not printed until 300 years after her death. Her teachings were different from the others writing in the time of the black death (their pandemic). Instead of focus on pain, punishment, repentance, she focused on the goodness of creation and the love of God for all things. She has a vision of a hazelnut. In the vision the hazel nut represents all things, and she asks how it survives because it seems so fragile. The answer that came was it survives because God loves it. Julian says that God loves things by oneing with them. God is with us and within us and with and within all of creation. And all of it is good. Julian’s most famous quote is “All is well, and all shall be well, all manner of things will be well.” What is truly inspiring about her work is that it was done in the time of a pandemic and perhaps we can learn from her in the midst of our pandemic about focusing on oneness with God and the goodness of God that is in all things.
My favorite part of Psalm 147 is verses 3 and 4 “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.” God heals our brokenness by uniting with us and God gives names to each of the stars because God is also one with creation. All of us survive because of God’s great love.
And perhaps that is why we need Psalm 147 still. Praise and prayer are supposed to change us. When we read the psalms (and re read the psalms), we see what God is up to, holding creation together in its vastness and in the cracks in the smallest heart. God loves creation by uniting with it. And when we are made one with God, we are made one with each other, and with all of creation.
All people and all creation are worthy of love and care.
Perhaps, if we are united with God, we are in the business of gathering the outcasts, healing the broken hearted, and binding up all of their wounds. Let us pray and let us be an answer to prayer.
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 love and release my heartache.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: God of stars and broken hearts, hear the world’s prayers and mine.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
“This liturgical hymn, to which the Nuremberg hymn, ‘Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich’, (composed about 1560) which ends on a Christian note, owes its origin, is in form clearly divided into three parts, each of which opens with a call to praise God. The thoughts are less strictly arranged, not, as has frequently been assumed, because the psalm is a compilation of quotations taken from earlier literary sources, but because the thoughts revolve round two basic themes and continually revert to them, so that they constitute the sustaining melody of the song of praise; they are the power of God and his compassionate grace as manifested in creation and election.” OTL p. 834 This commentary didn’t give me much to go on to find this hymn. I was hoping to find all of the verses so I could perhaps use the “Christian note” he mentions in the reflection. No such luck. But with the help of the Third Church music director, I have these gems:
Here’s the Scandello original, from 1568. He worked in Dresden, though:https://youtu.be/HM09uil29wU
And here is the Bach setting:https://youtu.be/68sDHTPhwU0
I found a somewhat literal translation into English here: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Texts/Chorale374-Eng3.htm
Settings of “O Praise the Lord, for he is Good” on Hymnary.org seem to track with Psalm 107, not 147…
Of parallel interest, there was a beautiful 19th century setting of the German text by Albert Becker:https://youtu.be/aa0g9JmYZjc
Sources and notes:
“God of Stars and Broken Hearts” WBC p. 304
“Psalm 147 is the second of the five Hallel psalms that form the doxological end of the book of Psalms. Classified as a community hymn, it celebrates God’s sovereign reign over the community of faith and all of creation.” W p. 306
“In both Psalms 146 and 147 the psalm singers celebrate God as sovereign over all creation as well as over the community of the faithful.” W p. 309
“This post-exilic hymn is a medley of two interwoven themes, Yahweh’s power in the sphere of nature, both as creator and as controller, and his patronage of the covenant people, demonstrated in recent history specifically and in the general attitude of grace which may be deduced therefrom. The psalm divides into three strophes, each with its own short exhortation to praise and a development in terms of this double content.” WBC p. 309
“The LORD is so much the content of praise that praise begins to reflect his attributes. In it his goodness is apparent. Through it the singers experience pleasure over the delightfulness of the LORD. The psalm can be read as a verbal portrait of that delightfulness.” Mays p. 442
“The psalm was written for the Jerusalem congregation (v.12) in the period of the restoration after the exile (vv. 2-3, 13-14). The way that particular experience of the LORD’s help is expressed is one example of the way hymnic theology in Israel’s praise turns a specific deed of the LORD into a general confession. The hymn does not say in narrative mode that the LORD rebuilt Zion and gathered the outcasts, but using participles it makes the deed a typical activity, a feature of the character of the LORD. The deed becomes a symbol, a means of knowledge of God and a guide to what to expect from him. So Israel, and later the church, can say through the years in its praise, “The LORD builds Jerusalem,” and state its confidence that the LORD not only founded the church but restores and gathers it when it passes through tribulation.” Mays p. 443
The word of the LORD: “The psalmist speaks of it as an agent of God’s rule set to do his bidding (vv. 15, 18). The word is an active force by which the LORD deals with the world.” Mays p. 443
“The psalm is the fruit of deep meditation upon sacred literature, as the section on Form/Structure/Setting indicated. Arranging and reworking what he read into his own artistic composition, the psalmist produced a new song of praise. He exults in a God at work in nature and in recent history, a God whose spoken word is heard by the ear of faith both in the winter storms and in the recited law. Yahweh’s power is harnessed to his grace. Yet this divine generosity lays obligations upon his chosen people, not only to praise but ever to trust with hope and to obey.” WBC p. 310
“The force the drives the universe, producing rained snow and heat and cold (vv. 19-20). At the heart of the biblical faith is the astounding claim that the power that has strewn the stars into their courses (v.4) is the same power that — or better who — “heals the broken-hearted” (v. 3), “lifts up the downtrodden” (v. 6), and declares an intelligible, personal, life-giving word to Israel (vv. 19-20). In short, our trust — indeed our only hope — is that the power behind the universe has a personal face that is turned toward us in “steadfast love” (v. 11b). …. The cosmic God is personally, intimately, inextricably involved in the lives and futures of human beings.” NIB p. 720
“This liturgical hymn, to which the Nuremberg hymn, ‘Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich’, (composed about 1560) which ends on a Christian note, owes its origin, is in form clearly divided into three parts, each of which opens with a call to praise God. The thoughts are less strictly arranged, not, as has frequently been assumed, because the psalm is a compilation of quotations taken from earlier literary sources, but because the thoughts revolve round two basic themes and continually revert to them, so that they constitute the sustaining melody of the song of praise; they are the power of God and his compassionate grace as manifested in creation and election.” OTL p. 834
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