Gateway to the Psalms

November 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Come. Let us enter into the Psalms. (I’ve been pondering them of late – with Bob. And now I have some thoughts to share.)

Psalms. What a lovely word. All the consonants are soft. The single vowel is the very one babies first make – in words like papa and mama. Psalm. A sound like “solemn” – a word you could say over and over. That’s exactly what the psalms are: Words to say over and over.

Come. Let us enter.

Some of the psalms will literally bid us enter. But right now we stand at the entryway itself. An entryway that asks for choices and presents them and their consequences in very stark terms. The book of psalms summarizes all the majesty and the plight of being human. No matter the circumstances or one’s inner state, you can find in the psalms an answering echo – words of comfort, of joy, of sorrow. Fear. Awe. Every emotion, every uplifting or depressing thought or feeling or circumstance. Words that speak to your heart or words that voice what is in your heart, that speak for you – when your own words fail.

Come. Let us begin…

Like a gateway – requiring two posts, one on either side, the collection of psalms begins with two introductory statements – between which we must pass. Two psalms, which set the stage, place us in a position of choices and lay out the consequences for us – the world as we find it already, ourselves as important players in a drama, already ongoing.

Imagine yourself standing at a gateway. On your right and your left are the gateposts, marking the entryway. These are the first two psalms. Once you pass through the gateway you will discover psalms that feel more personal, expressing yearning, remorse, conflict, joy, sorrow, exaltation, even despair. But these gateway psalms are placed here almost as warnings – asking you to pause. To ponder. To reflect. On your life. On its meaning. Its direction. On the state of the world. The forces that impinge upon our lives. What is transitory? What is ultimate? For whom and for what do I stand?

So we pause at the gate. We look left. We look right. And we either ponder psalms 1 and 2 or note them, intending to return at some later point – for we may see ahead of us more pressing concerns. Perhaps a need to run for cover in Psalm 3. Or wrap Psalm 4 around us like a prayer shawl. But if you haven’t really paused at these gateposts before, I invite you to wait with me at the Gate. To consider Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 as linked icons, placed there there to guard your passing, to be heeded – even reverenced – prior to entering the Psalm Garden within. Just as Orthodox priests reverence tiny icons on doorposts as they enter the sanctuary. Or as Jews post the Shema on doorways and gates, reverencing it in their going out and coming in.  In accord with its command to do so.

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