04 July 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
4 July 2022 (Psalm 131)

‘I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother’ (Psalm 131: 2) … ‘Divine Teardrop’ by Peter Cassidy in a recent exhibition at the Wexford Festival Opera (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today in the Calendar of the Church (4 July 2022), the calendar of the Church of England has transferred the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle from yesterday’s Sunday celebration. Later this morning, I plan to attend the funeral of my friend Bruce Kent of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). But, efore today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 131:

Psalm 131 is the twelftth in a series of 15 short psalms (Psalm 120-134) known as the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ These psalms begin with the Hebrew words שיר המעלות‎ (Shir Hama’a lot). In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is counted as Psalm 130.

Many scholars say these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals. Others say they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the 15 steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Mishnah notes the correspondence between the 15 songs and the 15 steps between the men’s court and the women’s courtyards in the Temple. A Talmudic legend says King David composed or sang the 15 songs to calm the rising waters at the foundation of the Temple.

One view says the Levites first sang the Songs of Ascent at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple during the night of 15 Tishri 959 BCE. Another study suggests they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. Others suggest they may originally have been songs sung by the exiles returning from Babylon, ascending to Jerusalem or individual poems later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity.

These psalms are cheerful and hopeful, and they place an emphasis on Zion. They were suited for being sung because of their poetic style and the sentiments they express. They are brief, almost like epigrams, and they are marked by the use of a keyword or repeated phrase that serves as a rung on which the poem ascends to its final theme.

Psalm 131 is sometimes known in English by its first verse in the King James Version, ‘Lord, my heart is not haughty,’ and in Latin it is known as Domine non est exaltatum cor meum. This is one of the shortest psalms, being one of three psalms with only three verses (the others are Psalm 133 and Psalm 134) – the shortest psalm is Psalm 117, with two verses.

In verse 1, the psalmist says he is neither vain nor arrogant to the point of denying God’s greatness and standing.

In verse 2, he recalls that he has successfully become at peace spiritually; he is at peace, as a child in a mother’s arms.

Verse 3 may be a liturgical response sung by pilgrims in Jerusalem.

This psalm in Hebrew is the text of the final movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, an extended work for choir and orchestra, with verse 1 of Psalm 133 added.

When asked what it means to trust in God, the Jewish sage known as the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797) of Vilnius, quoted verse 2 of this psalm:

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me

He explained that just as a nursing baby who is satiated does not worry whether there will be more milk when he or she is hungry again, one who trusts in God does not worry about the future.

‘Hope in the Lord from this time on and for evermore’ (Psalm 131: 3) … ‘Tempus Et Ignis Omnia Perdunt, ‘Time and Fire Consume All Things’ … the inscription on the sundial on Sundial House on Church Street, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 131 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvellous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and for evermore.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Tackling Poverty.’ It was introduced yesterday by Niall Cooper, Director at Church Action on Poverty.

Monday 4 July 2022 (Saint Thomas, Apostle, transferred):

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We pray for all who work to provide food for those living in poverty.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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