O Friends, how long will my reputation suffer shame? How long will you listen to false words? I seek only what is life-giving. (Psalm 4, Nan C. Merrill)
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 4:
Psalm 4 is an individual prayer for help. The psalmist experience loss of dignity because of lies spread about her. In the psalm we hear the cry to God for help, the righteous anger at those who caused the harm, and a declaration of trust in God. There are many other Psalms that fit into this category with very similar patterns. These Psalms teach us that anger can be a holy expression; that God is big enough to hear all of our angry words. The Psalmist tells those who hurt her “4 But each of you had better tremble and turn from your sins. Silently search your heart as you lie in bed” (CEV). In other words, you better be afraid because of your sin. But then the psalm shifts and ends with assurance of peace that comes from God.
Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes was this month’s speaker at PTS’s Wise Women Series. Her “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman” which was written as part of the book “A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditation for Renewal” that was edited by Sarah Bessey, (which hit the best seller list) has been misrepresented by news sources with conservative political biases. This misrepresentation has made her life unbearable. She had to shut down parts of her website and social media and relocate her family for their safety. She receives threatening emails daily. You can read more about the events of the last week here and sign a petition of support for Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes if you feel so moved.
Psalm 4 is a little angry but is quite tame compared to imprecatory psalms. These psalms are a little more anger-filled and tend to be specific about the vengeance they desire from God. Precatory psalms are often edited for worship or left out of the readings because they make us uncomfortable. For example, Psalm 137. We live in a society where we are told to tone down our unpleasant feelings. The message of toning down is mostly directed at women and especially BIPOC women.
Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes’ prayer was in the style of imprecatory psalms. She started the event with a reading of Psalm 137 and explained the structure of these psalms/prayers against one’s enemies. I will try to capture some of what she said. The big picture is that these psalms start with anger and hate but then shift to humility and reverence for God. Psalmists are asking for a vengeance that they themselves do not want to take and they acknowledge that this is not what God would want. We call this righteous anger expressed in these prayers holy and these psalms have a place in our scripture and in the God’s kingdom. The important role that these psalms play is showing us that we can take our anger (even anger at God) to God. God can handle it. We can not break God. And we know that God is not going to do this terrible angry vengeance thing that we asked for. Instead, we know that God will give us what we really need to get through. And while I don’t want to recount everything she said, because I would rather you buy her books and read her work, she tied all of this into self-care. Prayer (even angry prayer) is an act of emotional self-care. Emotional self-care is about being in touch with all of your feelings, including “negative” feelings, to sit with them and honor them. When we dampen unpleasant feelings we also dampen our good feelings too. She encouraged us to embrace joy.
It was a remarkable gift to listen to her talk honestly about how she was feeling and processing all that has happened. The Wise Women series starts with the same question addressed to each speaker, and to all of us at the end, “How is it with your soul?”
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 shame.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: For you alone are my beloved, teach me the way of love.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“Psalm 4 is an individual prayer for help. Its occasion is the trouble caused by falsehood. The honor of the one who prays has been damaged by a lie (v. 2). In spite of distress, the prayer’s dominant mood is confidence. In that confidence the prayer petitions God to hear and help (v. 1), rebukes those who cause humiliation (vv. 2-5), and declares trust in God (vv. 6-8). In the culture of ancient Israel, honor was of the greatest value; it is in most societies. Honor is the dignity and respect that belong to a person’s position in relation to family, friends, and community. It is an essential part of the identity that others recognize and regard in dealing with a man or a women. In Israel its loss had tragic consequences for self-esteem and social competence. Shaming and humiliating a person was violence against the worse than physical harm.” Mays p. 55
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.
DAFLER, J. (2021). PSOBRIETY: A journey of recovery through the psalms. Louisville, KY: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX.
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.
Merrill, N. C. (2020). Psalms for praying an invitation to wholeness (10th Anniversary Edition ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.
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, 3rdSunday 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
Lent: Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, 1st Sunday in Lent Psalm 25, 2nd Sunday in Lent Psalm 22, 3rdSunday in Lent Psalm 19, 4th Sunday in Lent Psalm 107, 5th Sunday in Lent Psalm 51 or Psalm 119:9-16, 6th Sunday in Lent (Palm or Passion Sunday) Psalm 118 or 31
Holy Week: Monday Psalm 36, Tuesday Psalm 71, Wednesday Psalm 70, Maundy Thursday Psalm 116, Good Friday Psalm 22, Holy Saturday Psalm 31
Easter: Easter Psalm 118 or 114, 2nd Sunday of Easter Psalm 133, 3rd Sunday of Easter Psalm 4, 4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23, 5th Sunday of Easter Psalm 22, 6th Sunday of Easter Psalm 98, Ascension Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, 7th Sunday of Easter Psalm 1, Day of Pentecost Psalm 104