“To the leader. A Psalm. When the little servant girl is taken away captive to Syria.”
A new superscription for Psalm 84 suggested by Denise Dombkowski Hopkins in the Wisdom Commentary Psalms Books 2-3 p 329
Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 84:
The psalmist longs for the temple and being in the safety of God’s presence. She writes as someone who is not in the temple, but longs to be back in the temple. It is interesting to imagine this Psalm being prayed by the unnamed servant girl in 2 Kings 5 (see notes below). While many interpreters and preachers (myself included, see Unexpected Mercy) see this little girl as choosing to love her enemy, this may not be her reality given the trauma she has experienced as a young woman taken captive. Her prayers, as Psalm 84, are about longing to flee to be somewhere, anywhere else, but mostly to be in the presence of God. Given the news about Afghanistan (I’m writing this in August 2021), it is hard not to also imagine the young women praying something like Psalm 84, and longing for protection from the Taliban that is unlikely to come.
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
I hope that their prayers envelope them in God’s loving presence and transport their souls to a place of peace and safety even in the midst of unspeakable horrors that they face. Holy Mother, hear the prayers of your sparrows.
I love Fran Pratt’s liturgies and she wrote this beautiful one for Afghanistan:
This is a prayer for Afghanistan as that nation is in the midst of great turmoil and fear, in light of the US withdrawal after 20 years of occupation and war, and the return of the rule of the Taliban.
God, we remember to you those suffering in Afghanistan:
Non-combatants in fear for their lives and livelihoods,
Women and girls historically abused and oppressed by the Taliban,
Troops and workers watching the dissolution of decades of work,
Soldiers mourning lost comrades,
All who have worked and hoped for a better future for Afghanistan.
We don’t claim to understand everything about what’s happening there,
But we know pain and chaos when we see it.
The people of Afghanistan are our family;
When they hurt, we hurt.
God, bring peace and comfort to the Afghan people.
Let the land no longer be a place of war and conflict.
Bring just government and leaders who are fair and upright.
Let inequality and oppression be relics of the past.
Upend the cause of the unjust and destroy the plans of the wicked.
Restore the nation of Afghanistan to its truest beauty, it’s sacred home.
Forgive us for ways we, our government, our military, have been complicit in the chaos there.
Guide our government and military authorities in the path of insight (1).
May they learn to wield power in ways that help and not harm,
To prevent war rather than perpetuate it,
To know when to intervene on behalf of the vulnerable,
And when to mind their own business.
We pray, here and abroad, for people and governments
That act justly and love mercy,
That work persistently for the good of all,
That protect and serve the vulnerable,
That uplift the oppressed,
That root out injustice.
May God’s good community, your Kin-dom family,
Come on earth as it is in heaven.
1) Proverbs 9:6
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 peace and release my fear.
Or you may want to use a short phrase: How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! (Psalm 84:1)
Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
Sources and notes:
“Many interpreters assume that Psalm 84 offers a “happy image.” Could this psalm, like Psalm 42-43, express instead a taunting memory of past experience of temple worship that is not now available to the psalmist? …. The words of Psalm 84 give us mixed signals in this regard.” W p. 324
“Birds as a metaphor for the psalmist occur several times in the Psalter. [ex. Psalm 11:1, Psalm 55:6, Psalm 102:6-7] In each case birds symbolize the vulnerability, defenselessness, and suffering of the psalmist. These are not “happy” images.” W pp. 324-325
“The canonical arrangement of the Psalms, from a preponderance of laments to hymns of praise and thanksgiving, suggests “a dynamic of happiness that finds a way through misery rather than around it.” W p. 326
“The repeated use of the epithet “LORD of Hosts” for God in vv. 1,3,8,12 (see Pss 24,46,48,59,80,84,89) reinforced by “my King” in v. 3d, suggest the image of God as Divine Warrior who leads Israel’s army and the heavenly armies (see 1Kgs 22:19). Taking this together with the bird imagery that implies the psalmist’s homelessness and suffering, one can imagine that psalmist in a situation of war, separated from the safety and protection of God’s presence in the temple and desperately longing for it. This probably setting invites as inter text the story of the unnamed Israelite serving girl in 2 Kings 5. As “a young girl captive” (v. 2), this little girl is truly homeless, plucked fro her family in the land of Israel to sere the wife of the commander of the Syrian (Aramean) army, Naaman. Syria was a constant threat to Israel in the ninth century BCE. The little girl’s “marginality as a child captive in enemy territory represents the weakness of the northern kingdom of Israel, which was unable to protect her and no doubt many others liker her in time of war.” Unfortunately, many interpreters romanticize this little girl by focusing on her wish in 2 Kings 5:3: “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria,” which they take as evidence of her compassionate choice to love rather than hate her enemy. Like Rahab in Joshua 2, she becomes a paradigm for healing in the midst of war and death. This expectation of her is perhaps more than her tiny shoulders can bear and does not accord with the stories of many children traumatized by war today or in the ancient world.” W pp. 326-327
“As a little slave girl prays Psalm 84 in her captivity she fills it with the pathos of her situation far from home.” W p. 328
“The carefully arranged and thoughtfully chosen words of Ps 84 do more than simply describe a place. They transport the psalmist and her audience to Zion, to the divine court, the temple, enveloped in the presence of God. The words of the psalm orient devotees in time and space, appealing to religious traditions and spaces to help negotiate power. It is clear from the psalm that the place described is not the place form which the psalmist longs to be. The mixed metaphors of Psalm 84 are a subtle commentary on the psalmist’s situation. She dreams of idyllic Zion but the shadow side of her situation is an ugly reality. Her psalm is a subversive condemnation of her situation. The words of the psalm provide a cognitive “map” for those who want little more than to flee.” W p. 328 excerpt from Amy Beth Jones
“Again, core testimony intends to remind God of who God is and prompt God to action. Her longing for God is painful and deep.” W p. 328-329
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, 9th Sunday 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, 20th Sunday 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.