Happy are those who have a place to stand. They are like a tree planted in paradise.
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 1:
The book of psalms opens with a beatitude. Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked. The first psalm tells us that the wicked will perish and the righteous prosper. But you don’t have to have lived in this world for more than two minutes to figure out that it is not always the case. And if you’ve read more than two psalms you would know that it wasn’t true when these psalms were written either.
I think it has more to do with the wicked believing they are an end to themselves (they are their own god). They do not have a place to put their faith and their hope. They do not have a temple or torah or relationship with something bigger than themselves. Those who choose the way of righteousness have all of these things; they are able to dwell in a paradise designed to be an oasis for souls.
The image of trees-planted-in-the-temple or trees-planted-in-paradise are found in other psalms like 52 and 92. Psalm one is changing that image a little. It was probably written after the destruction of the temple, so it shifts from temple to torah and water. Torah can bring those who meditate on it into an awareness of God’s presence much like the temple would do for those who prayed there. Torah, the word of God, the teaching of God’s love, is an oasis for the souls of the righteous. The righteous have a place to stand, to be rooted, to be fed, and to grow. The wicked have cut themselves off from God’s presence.
But we are not trees. We move. Sometimes we are righteous and sometimes not so much. But because of scriptures, especially the psalms we know that we can cry out to God who hears us, who loves us, and who has a place for us to stand. We belong in this temple-paradise-oaisis with God. In that we can put our faith and our hope.
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 wisdom and release my self-centeredness.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: Beloved God, I long for your presence.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“The Book of Psalms begins with a beatitude. Not a prayer or a hymn, but a statement about human existence. Here at the threshold of the Psalter we are asked to consider the teaching that the way life is lived is decisive for how it turns out. This opening beatitude also serves as an introduction too the book. its location as the first psalm is not accidental; the psalm is there to invite us to read and use the entire book as a guide to a blessed life.” Mays p. 40
“This first beatitude prompts the reader to think of ht entire book as instruction for life and commends a kind of conduct that uses the Psalter in that way.” Mays p. 41
“…Psalm 1 invites us to expect and receive torah from the psalms, that is, to read them as Scripture. …. Indeed, Psalm 1 wants the whole to be read as instruction–instruction in prayer, in praise, in God’s way with us and our way under God.” Mays p. 42
Psalm 1 sets up the expectation that the righteous will prosper and the wicked will not. “The prayers testify that the righteous meet affliction rather than fulfillment in life.” Mays p. 44
“Placing first a psalm that is to be used outside the practice of worship indicates that the whole collection of Psalms was more than just some poems used for liturgy (though they never ceased to be that as well).” Creach p. 22
“…with a beatitude, good fortune is recognized as the natural outgrowth of life deemed “wise” by those who seek God’s kingdom, not as a result of the words of Someone with power to “bless.” So perhaps a better translation of ashre is “happy” or “fortunate.”” Creach p. 23
“The wicked are those who deny, as the hymn writer has said, “God is the ruler yet.”” Creach p. 24
“The wicked are those who lose sight of their place as created beings, and arrogantly see the creature (i.e., themselves; see Rom. 1:18-32) as something more than it is. From this base of self-delusion, all manner of evil actions arise. Such a stance in life always leads to a fall, the psalmist asserts.” Creach p. 25
“…the fivefold organization of the Psalter seems to indicate a close association with the Torah in a narrow sense. However, torah as psalm 1 uses the word is not limited to one document. Torah communicates the body of all instruction from God, in whatever form (a sermon, or even a personal experience, to name two examples). The placement of psalm 1 at the head of the Psalter, therefore, may mean that those who put the book together inter readers to receive torah (divine instruction) from the psalms that follow. In time, the book of Psalms would become scripture, and would stand alongside the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy) and the rest of the Old Testament as a written collection of God’s revelation. One of the teaching points of Psalm 1 is that attention to scripture and trust in scripture as a guide to life are requisites for righteousness. The righteous who love and live torah will find their happiness there too.” Creach pp. 25-26
Psalm 1 trees planted by water. Psalms 52 and 92 trees planted in the temple. “This is a typical Old Testament way of speaking about the Temple. It is probably not so much historical as poetic. That is, this language comes from the idea that the Temple is a paradise. The Temple was for ancient Israelites a kind of “oasis for the soul”. In the Temple, God’s presence and power could be felt, the chaotic world made sense, and God’s ultimate purpose for the world could be envisioned. The passages cited above imagine the righteous like one of the trees planted firmly before the throne of God. The righteous always have in their sights the will of God and God’s rule over the world. Psalm 1:3 draws upon the trees-in-paradise image, and perhaps the trees-planted-in-temple image as well.” Creach p. 27
“Two observations can be drawn from the simile of the righteous who are like trees planted in and around the Temple. Both rely on the assumption that Psalm 1 understands the stability that the righteous derive from meditation on torah. First, torah does for the believer what the Jerusalem Temple did: provides access to the presence of God, reveals the order of God’s kingdom, and depicts the long-term wisdom of following the path of the righteous instead of the wicked. Second, since this psalm was probably written after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed (in 587 B.C. by the Babylonians), the psalm may imply that torah has replaced the Temple.” Creach pp. 27-28
“For the psalmist, that foundation is to delight in and to meditate upon torah, to be constantly open to God’s instruction. Taking such a stand or such a stance enables one to live with purpose and integrity in a world of confession… It enables one to live with hope in a world full of despair, and it enables one to perceive the mystery of life where others may perceive only the misery of life.” McCann p. 35
“It has everything to do with delighting in and meditation on torah; it has everything to do with being open to God’s instruction; it has everything to do with being open to God’s presence in the face of unimaginable option and open to God’s power to transform the most hopeless of situations. In short, it has everything to do with having a “place to stand”.” McCann p. 36
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.
Chittister Chittister, Joan. (2011). Songs of the heart: reflections on the psalms. John Garratt Publishing.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach 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 McCann, J. C. (1993). A theological introduction to the book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah. Nashville, TN: Abingdon 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