Translators do curious things. One of those is the translation of Psalm 119:109 which is usually rendered something like what the ESV renders, “I hold my life in my hand continually”. I am nowhere near familiar enough with Hebrew to understand the reasoning behind this translation, however, I have reason to think that the meaning of the verse is lost in this translation.
The Hebrew word, “hand” in the verse may also be translated “palm”. Rather than the psalmist “carrying” himself and his life, or “clutching” it, I believe he is rather, “handing” over his life. The image of one offering with their open palms all of their life is one of the great images of faith, and I believe it is the picture intended here. It is the albeit empty-handed-but-everything-offered picture which captured my imagination for this poem.
If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
Seeking, I sat with teachers under trees,
Mimicked opinions, held their high regard,
Took their approval as the sacred keys
To unlock the blessing from which I’d been barred.
Longing, I asked, “What does the wise world know?”
“What gifts can they offer, bring me glory?”
I took in my hand the world’s tool to show
Through filtered pics my envious story.
Greedy, I took wickedness without care,
Grasped at pleasures with debauched revelry;
My so called friends led me into despair:
Approval’s trap from which I’d not get free.
Holding, this pail of cast off table scraps,
Wondering, could they nourish, feed my soul?
Rememb’ring my father, “Would he perhaps
Take me on, let me eat from a servant’s bowl?”
Returning, I hold my life, palms up in offering;
Not taking but giving my life, surrendering.
© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
Artwork: James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) The Prodigal Son in Modern Life: In Foreign Climes. Oil on Canvas (c. 1882) Musee de Nantes, France.