Meditation on Ps19
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
My favourite psalm. But how does it speak to where we are this week? Well, first of all in disconcerting ways. Verses 1-6 speak of the great cosmic song of nature. We know this song can be very violent – as is often said, we ourselves are made from the dusts of stars, and those stars exploded with inconceivable force. And this violence of natural processes has come very close to us this year. We fear it, as many modern First World people have forgotten to fear nature.
The psalm says there is a great unheard song to nature (vv. 3-4), a song in a language we cannot make out, and the psalm says that, paradoxical as this must seem, the song cries out ‘Glory!’ The cosmos in all its violence and threat and harmony and beauty speaks of the unimaginable power and fecundity of God’s creation.
Then the psalm makes a strange turn, and starts talking about God’s law. The English here is misleading: ‘Torah’ here is much closer to ‘Bible’ (so Westermann). God has written us a song on a human scale, a song of what right living looks like (and sent Jesus to sing it to us). This is the song of wisdom and the fear of the Lord, ‘sweeter than honey/quintessence of bees’ (Robert Alter).
Within the cosmic anthem is our own small song, a song of prayer, for only God can guard our wisdom against our unwitting sins. And the prayer is summed up in the last verse:
Let the words of my mouth (and my emails, my Zooms, my Tik Tok and my texts)
and the meditation of my heart (literally the murmuring of my heart)
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Wherever we are, however un-wise we feel, and however strong or weak the murmuring of the hearts of those we love, let that be our prayer today.
Christopher Southgate April 21 2020