By David Baumann
A Reading from Psalm 119:25-48
25 My soul cleaves to the dust;
give me life according to your word.
26 I have confessed my ways, and you answered me;
instruct me in your statutes.
27 Make me understand the way of your commandments,
that I may meditate on your marvelous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
29 Take from me the way of lying;
let me find grace through your law.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set your judgments before me.
31 I hold fast to your decrees;
O LORD, let me not be put to shame.
32 I will run the way of your commandments,
for you have set my heart at liberty.
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,
and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law;
I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments,
for that is my desire.
36 Incline my heart to your decrees
and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless;
give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,
which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread,
because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments;
in your righteousness preserve my life.
41 Let your loving-kindness come to me, O LORD,
and your salvation, according to your promise.
42 Then shall I have a word for those who taunt me,
because I trust in your words.
43 Do not take the word of truth out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your judgments.
44 I shall continue to keep your law;
I shall keep it for ever and ever.
45 I will walk at liberty,
because I study your commandments.
46 I will tell of your decrees before kings
and will not be ashamed.
47 I delight in your commandments,
which I have always loved.
48 I will lift up my hands to your commandments,
and I will meditate on your statutes.
About 15 years ago I was on retreat with a number of clergy. We didn’t have a retreat conductor, so several of us took turns at presenting an address. I will never forget one that had Psalm 119 as its theme. The address transformed the way I look at this ethereal composition. At first glance it can come across as an over-repetitive and therefore boring praise of the divine Law, but when one looks closer, we find a composition from an amazing lover of God. The retreat address compared this psalm to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: one can gaze at it with adoration. It is an expression of love for a God of order and beauty. His Law is absolute, and therefore divinely perfect, showing his world to be radiantly beautiful, desirable, and dependable.
This long psalm is an acrostic, composed in a pattern of sequences of eight verses, each entry dedicated in turn to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section praises God’s Law using a number of synonyms: “law,” “decrees,” “ways,” “commandments,” “statutes,” “words,” “promise,” and “judgments.” Yet the repetition is neither mechanical nor overstructured; there is fluidity in the use of the key words, so that sometimes one may be used more than once in a section and others not used at all, only to return later on. And six of the 176 verses do not use any of the synonyms at all.
Our lectionary sets out three sections of the psalm for Wednesdays throughout the year, so that we have a weekly presentation of this exquisite psalm of order, love, praise, and beauty. Today’s selection provides a suitable summary of the psalm’s message: “I will run the way of your commandments, for you have set my heart at liberty.” Obedience to God is not restrictive but rather frees the faithful to know themselves in God’s own heart — a heart that is radiant, desireable, and dependable.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Diego, Calif.
The Diocese of Ijebu – North (Church of Nigeria – Anglican Communion)