Great is the Beloved and greatly to be praised in the abode of the Most High! Psalm 48:1 Nan C. Merrill
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 48:
9 We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
There is a lot to ponder in Psalm 48. The whole section about birth pangs sounds like a way of saying something is inevitable or unstoppable but in a negative way signifying the defeat of Israel’s enemies by God. Feminine images are used to describe defeat. This comes from the personification of Zion/Jerusalem as female and the conquering of the city described as rape. While the intention of describing God’s enemies as trembling in fear with birth pangs is that God’s sovereignty is an inevitable outcome, this devaluing of the feminine is harmful. “Psalm 48 reminds us, as feminist readers, to “ponder” how God’s intentions may be distorted for our harm.” W p.54
Beth A. Richardson’s reflection on Psalm 48 includes: “The pains of labor are about courage more than fear, fierceness more than flight, determination more than panic. Birth-giving women are Vessels of the alchemy of creation; Containers of holy fire, forging treasures; Midwives of the Divine.”
Midwives of the Divine is an image I would love to ponder for the church. What would it mean for us to participate in God’s birthing new life into the world? What would it mean to do this work in the midst of oppressive forces that would seek to work against what God is doing? What would it mean to stand up to these powers as the midwives Shiphrah and Puah did when they defied pharaohs orders? Fearing God more than anything and obeying God’s will even when it runs against the empires is brave and holy work. In the midst of systemic poverty and structural racism we are called to upset those powers and to witness to the new life that God is lovingly birthing into the world.
9 We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
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 steadfast love and release my fear.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: 9 We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“The pains of labor are about courage more than fear, fierceness more than flight, determination more than panic. Birth-giving women are Vessels of the alchemy of creation; Containers of holy fire, forging treasures; Midwives of the Divine.” Beth A. Richardson’s reflection on Psalm 48 in Spong.
“Zion/Jerusalem is often referenced as female in Tanakh (cp. the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” in rev. 21:2; see also Gal 4:26; Phil 3:20) and throughout the ancient Near East. The context for this personification in Tanakh is often that of military disaster; the conquered female city is portrayed as a victim of rape. Zion is characterized as female in Psalm 48. Verse 11 declares: “let Mount Zion be glad, let the towns of Judah rejoice.” the Hebrew word here translated “towns” is, in fact, “daughters”. In urban contexts, as Robert Alter notes, “daughters” refers to outlying hamlets, and the city is understood as “mother”. In addition, though the NRSV translates pronouns and possessive adjectives for the city in vv. 12-13 as neuter “it” or “its,” the Hebrew is in the third-person feminine singular form and literally reads “her”: “go all around her,” “consider well her ramparts”.” W pp. 52-53
“Given this personification of Zion, Lamentations 2:15 can serve as helpful intertext for evaluating female Zion in Psalm 48:12-13. Zion/Jerusalem is personified as “Daughter Zion” or “Daughter Jerusalem” (Lam 1-2) as she voices a funeral dirge over her military defeat, describes as rape (see Her 13:26; Isa 47:1-3). Lamentations 2:15 quotes Psalm 48:2 to contrast Zion’s former beauty and joy with her current humiliated state. Passersby “hiss and wag their heads” at her now. Despite the exaltation of Zion in Psalm 48, subordination and abuse lurk behind her personification. “The intrinsic violence of city-as-woman metaphor is grounded in men’s violent control of women in ancient Near eastern societies…. the city as an object of violence is always a feminine Other, reinforcing the status of the feminine as secondary, and facilitating a pornographic objectification of women by setting the female as the model victim.” Mark Body expands this argument in his study of the summons to joy directed to the female Zion in the prophets, which he argues is always related to military victory, as in Psalm 48:11. In Lamentations 2, Daughter Zion must voice her lament uninvited and she expresses no joy. Boda charges that the male elite have “leveraged” the female image of the city in Lamentations 1-2 “to mourn the loss of their own privilege and hegemony over the vulnerable within the society.” Daughter Zion is left “ever the victim in this new context.”” W p. 53
“Another reference to females in Psalm 48:6 also raises questions. The hostile kings become undone when they view Zion: “trembling took hold of them there, pains as of a woman in labor.” The Hebrew means “labor pains.” Carol Meyers argues that since contractions are not under one’s control, the word is used figuratively to depict other situations of helplessness “in the face of an inevitable outcome.” In Psalm 48 this means the inevitable universality of God’s sovereignty. Normally, however, the expected outcome of labor pains is birth and new life, a positive experience. At the hands of the male elite and their Zion theology this metaphor has been turned upside down to signal defeat and death for the kings attacking Zion. Jeremiah uses the same metaphor in 4:31: daughter Zion is in labor, “waiting before killers” (the invading army) as a sign of Israel’s punishment. In light of the Zion theology embedded particularly in Psalm 48:4-7 we are left, along with the worshipers in the temple, to “ponder” God’s steadfast love (v.9). The Hebrew verb translated “ponder” is, which means “form an image in one’s mind,” “reflect”. Psalm 48 reminds us, as feminist readers, to “ponder” how God’s intentions may be distorted for our harm.” W pp. 53-54
This except from Yolonda Marie Norton found in the Wisdom Commentary: “Birth Pangs and Black Liberation As Walter Brueggemann suggests, too often the psalms are read within a context of affirming normative structures and power. White American males read a text about a God who defends them and use it as license to proliferate military and police power against all who oppose their agenda. However, it is crucial to remember that, despite its articulations otherwise throughout the canon, Israel was not an empire. Instead, we know that Israel most often lived in fear of and/or fell victim to empire. When we read this psalm with the understanding that it is a statement against norms and power structures, sit becomes a liberative tool for the marginalized. In this instance Israel is not on the attack but rather on the defensive; it is God who steps in and saves it from the aggressor. In this moment we should see the beginning work of the “God of the oppressed.” This psalm recalls a God who speaks in and through history. When it is read in a contemporary marginalized contest, readers draw comfort from the notion that God protects those who are ill prepared for battle with their enemies. In this instance the allusion to labor pains should not be seen as a reference to weakness. Instead, the writer paints a picture that highlights the intensity of the labor pains. Further, we can understand that these pains, while abortive for the oppressor, birth life and deliverance for the people of Israel in the text. When they read psalm 48 in a contemporary context, black diasporatic Christians can understand themselves as those delivered through these birth pangs.” W p. 54
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.
Lewis, C. S. (2017). Reflections on the Psalms. Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
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
Season After Pentecost (Ordinary Time): 1st Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 138 or Psalm 130, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 20 or Psalm 92, 4th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 9 or Psalm 133 or Psalm 107, 5th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 130 or Psalm 30, 6th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 48 or Psalm 123, 7th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 24 or Psalm 85, 8th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 89 or Psalm 23, 9thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 14 or Psalm 145, 10th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 51 or Psalm 78, 11th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 130 or Psalm 34, 12th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 111 or Psalm 34, 13th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 84 or Psalm 34, 14th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 45 or Psalm 15, 15th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 125 or Psalm 146, 16th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 19 or Psalm 116, 17th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 1 or Psalm 54, 18th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 124 or Psalm 19, 19th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 26 or Psalm 8, 20thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 22 or Psalm 90, 21st Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 104 or Psalm 91, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 34 or Psalm 126, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 146 or 119, 24th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 127 or Psalm 146, 25th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 16, 26th Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King) Psalm 132 or Psalm 93.