Ordinary Prayer: Psalm 10

At the beginning or the church season of Ordinary Time, I began a project in the church where I pastor titled Ordinary Prayer. During this pandemic’s staged shut down of activities, we have been meeting over Zoom and praying through the Psalms. Whether they are read in King James English or in a modern translation, the psalms are meant for king and commoner. They’ve been sung and prayed by Levites leading worship in Jerusalem’s Temple and by fishermen mending their nets. They were written by shepherds watching their flocks and by people at their prayers. The psalms are emotionally honest and metaphorically rich.

This past week, I turned my mind to paraphrasing one of the psalms we will be praying. The purpose and benefit of paraphrasing as an exercise is that it allows the writer to further step into what they are reading. The benefit for the reader is that the meaning may be further teased out. The psalms were meant to be prayed, and this is an attempt to make them more accessible.

The psalmist in Psalm 10 brings their faith to bear upon the realities of the injustice of the world in which the psalmist lives. In that world — in this world — there are those wicked people who live as if this world is all that there is and what can be gotten from it is all that is worth getting. Their merciless greed makes them to be, as the the psalmist writes, “of the earth.”

You may listen to me read the psalm paraphrase via the player below.

Why Lord, Why?
Why do you stand off?
Why, when trouble finds me, I cannot find you?

These earthly men have no shame —
These wicked who chase the poor down
And run them into the traps that they’ve set for them.
And when the earthly man has done so,
He brags how he’s gotten everything he’s ever wanted.
Boasting, he laughs to himself, “I got it all on my own!”
He sneers with pride and gives no thanks to God
Of whom he says, “There is no such thing.”

The earthly man gets what he wants here and now.
You, Lord, are far beyond his comprehension.
As for his enemies, he struts around in front of them like a rooster
Saying, “No one makes me step aside. No one can touch me.”

The aerosol droplets of his curse words, lies, and demands
Spit from his mouth the infection of his sin-virus
And works all kinds of mischief.
He is just waiting to cause trouble.
It’s like he just spends his spare time making plans to hurt innocent people.
Like a lion, he looks to pounce on the helpless as he watches from the shadows.
Like a trapper, he waits to pull the snare.
He watches that he might entangle the poor in his net.

Those of us who before were bent by trouble,
The earthly man now breaks and beats down.
He says, “See? God doesn’t care…
He doesn’t see you and doesn’t care what I do!”

Lord! Now! Now!
Come! Do something! Don’t forget us!
How can the wicked go on thinking they can do whatever they please?

Oh, but Oh Lord, you do see.
You mark their mischief and trouble-making
That you may take matters into your own hands.

Lord, we’re reaching out to take your hand,
For you are the one who takes in hand those who have no one.

Slap back the earthly man’s arm,
Shorten his reach,
Frustrate his schemes,
Settle his account,
Make him pay his bill’s full amount.

You Lord, are the boss of everyone: kings, presidents, and CEO’s–
They are all beholding to you.
Nations, agencies, kingdoms, and corporations are nothing.

Lord, Lord, you do hear.
You do hear the cries of those in need.
You will give them courage.
You will find them and listen to every last word they have have to say
So that justice is worked for those who are alone and beat down–
For those who have no one but you,
So that the earthly man won’t make anyone afraid ever again.

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© Randall Edwards 2020.
This paraphrase of Psalm 10 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). Thank you.

Arriving after a Long Obedience

Eugene Peterson arrived at his destination yesterday morning. His book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, as well as The Contemplative Pastor, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Answering God, Run with Horses, and Practice Resurrection have all played their part in my life and ministry.

There are portions of Peterson’s work that read more like poetry than simple narrative or exposition. I am very grateful for that. In his book on the Songs of Ascent, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Peterson riffs on the meaning of Psalm 134. By “meaning” I don’t mean what the words are in Hebrew or their etymology or their systematic implications. Rather, by “meaning” I think I mean its “umph!” –its significance or potency.

In Psalm 134, the pilgrim having walked to Jerusalem since Psalm 120 at last reaches the Temple gates. But in what shape, at what cost, and for what?

Psalm 134 reads,

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!

The celebratory destination of faith is worship and that is also the purpose for coming. However, what if in coming so far, at such cost, enduring such difficulties, one does not arrive in strength but arrives in weakness — as one who barely makes it? Eugene Peterson writes about the first words of Psalm 134 with the condition of the arrivals in mind. If the Songs of Ascent are a map, Peterson seems to place a hypothetical red arrow on the map and ask, what if YOU ARE HERE?

Peterson writes,

Read one way, the sentence is an invitation: “Come, bless GOD.” The great promise of being in Jerusalem is that all may join in the rich temple worship. You are welcome now to do it. Come and join in. Don’t be shy. Don’t hold back. Did you have a fight with your spouse on the way? That’s all right. You are here now. Bless God. Did you quarrel with your neighbor while making the trip? Forget it. You are here now. Bless God. Did you lose touch with your children while coming and aren’t sure just where they are now? Put that aside for the moment. They have their own pilgrimage to make. You are here. Bless God. Are you ashamed of the feelings you had while traveling? the grumbling you indulged in? the resentment you harbored? Well, it wasn’t bad enough to keep you from arriving, and now that you are here, bless God. Are you embarrassed at the number of times you quit and had to have someone pick you up and carry you along? No matter. You are here. Bless God.

Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Peterson has the psalmist speaking to the many circumstances one may arrive to worship and has the psalmist call them to worship (no matter where they’ve come from) with the refrain, “Bless God”.

In honor of the Pastor Eugene Peterson, I am reposting this poem based on his words. He gets all the credit for anything good, but if bad, the blame lies with me.

Lord, we bless you and thank you for the pastor.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

Did you fight with your spouse along the way?
That’s all right. You’re here now.
Bless God.

Did you quarrel with your neighbor while on the road?
Forget it. You are here now.
Bless God.

Lost touch with your children, haven’t seen them all day?
Take a moment; for these worries, pray,
But while you wait, arise, say,
“They are yours; you are mine;
I bless you, God.”

All those wasted miles pouting, are you ashamed–
The grumbling indulged? the resentment inflamed?
It wasn’t so bad that it kept you abroad,
And now that you are here,
Bless God.

Embarrassed by quitting, that you’re not counted tough?
How your burdens were carried by those who bore you up?
No matter. At long last, you are here;
That’s enough.
Bless God.

Join with the assembly, the joyful throng
Whether sinner, saint,
Afraid, faint, weak, or strong
We have arrived together,
You’re where you belong.
Welcome, take your place, and
Let us, bless God.

The thoughts and some of the words are most certainly, Eugene Peterson’s.
See: Eugene H.. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Kindle Locations 2394-2401). IVP Books. Kindle Edition.
artwork: Illustration of The Pilgrim’s Progress or Christian’s journey from the City of Destruction in this evil World to the Celestial City; Published July 1, 1813 by J. Pitts No 14 Great St Andrews Street Seven Dials.

What Prince?

This poem finds its inspiration in Psalm 119:161-176 and is the last in a series on Psalm 119.

One of psalmist’s antagonists throughout Psalm 119 are the “princes”. Rather than take “prince” as merely one who is a member of the king’s household, I have imagined them as those who, because of material resources and proximity to power, seek to exert controlling influence wherever they find themselves and use what power they have not to influence for justice but for their own benefit. The “princes” of Psalm 119 have their mirrors in today’s middle managers and corporate vice-presidents.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

The princes who hide behind smiles, a glower—
Who greedy and gorging, the weak devour—
The schemers with nothing better to do
Than plot to get more, the vulnerable screw;
These are the princes of power.

I hate and abhor their falsehood and lies
Who fawn and cower in noble disguise;
Their hearts are foul; their love and delight
Are the deeds done under cover of night;
Their lord is lord of the flies.

But in their buzzing I hear my own voice—
Full of fear, proud, a damnable noise;
Cursing in anger, their fall fuels my hate
Crushes my life ‘neath the burdensome weight;
What prince deliver, bring peace?

One Prince suits up, girds himself for the fight
Sets out before dawn, on the road at first light
Leaves ninety-nine to seek one who is lost
With a princely sum, he pays the full cost
To buy me back, one who in sin took flight
Makes me a child, makes a prince, makes me right.

© 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 Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With My Whole Heart

This poem finds its inspiration in Psalm 119:145-160

With my whole heart, I cry. With all of me
I call out when in my own company
Before the morn, when I in mourning be.
Alone I wait and wait to see
You rescue from the grave
As promised in your testimony.
With my whole heart I cry, “Save!
Oh Lord, please save me!”

With your heart, will you, do you love me?
May I trust, believe you love beyond degree?
Are just, judge with impartiality?
Love to the end though the end bitter be?
No matter the cost?
Though denied, yet love faithfully?
With your whole heart, seek the lost?
Oh Lord, do you love me?

“Nearer my God,” I sing, “Nearer to Thee”
When my enemies draw close, threaten me
Who are far from your law, who act wickedly
Who are blind, yet deny, claim they can see
Claim they alone are right?
Will you my deliverer be?
Will you rescue, enter my night
To draw me near’r to Thee?

Why? My God, why has thou forsaken me?
My enemies heap contempt scoffingly
My friends deny they know, abandon me
Leave me to hang on this tree
This I do for love.
That blessing may rain more fully
Descend in fire, alight as a dove,
Give them you, Hide them in me.

© 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: Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Project Gutenberg.

Your Word Unlocks

This sonnet is loosely based on Psalm 119:129-144. Much of my meditating has come from the line in verse 129 which reads, “Your testimonies are wonderful”. The “wonderful” is akin to the meaning of supernatural. When received, good news is wonderful. It is this amazement that I attempt to contrast with the troubles the psalmist expresses and my own.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Your word unlocks, runs straight, is just and right;
It cuts to the heart and pierces the night.
Strong and stable, firmness to rest upon
Is your word, the promise I depend on.

I am small and despised; my enemy knows
I am but a breath, can be felled with blows:
A roll of the eye, a sigh, fuels the shame
Of my thirst for the draughts of praise and fame.

But you redeem the fear-of-failure’s slave,
Steal sin’s sting and the victory of the grave;
Your light beckons, draws me into the day
Sets me to walk in the steps of your way.

I wonder is that word too good? Can it be?
The Word cries, “It is finished!” Bids, “Follow me.”

© 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 Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Woman with an Issue of Blood (L’hémoroïsse), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 11 x 7 1/16 in. (27.9 x 17.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.111 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.111_PS2.jpg). No copyright restrictions.