Psalm of Psalms

One of a series chronicling a Psalm Pilgrimage.

Went to bed Monday evening as a winter storm brewed up the east coast – while another storm brewed in my spirit. I had been looking at word clouds on Pinterest – particularly ones from books of the Bible, like the one here for Psalms.

When Tim and I got together during Advent, he mentioned the notion of “Motives” or themes (phrases) in the Psalter, which got me to thinking about a project to scout them up. Instead of words, what of the phrases that appear repeatedly in the Psalms? What are they, and does the collection of them lend any insight into our understanding and appreciation of this collection of ancient prayers and songs? Before going to bed, I did a bit of searching on the internet and was dumfounded to find absolutely nothing.

Tuesdays are reserved for exegesis and study, and the rain and wind closed the church office, so I got up early and worked over twelve hours on this little project, which picked up considerable speed when I realized that my study software, BibleWorks, includes a feature that tracks down word clusters. After a bit of trial and error, I came up with the following rules for what constituted a repeating Psalm phrase:

  1. I conducted the search in Hebrew
  2. I looked for clusters of three or more words, with no more than a single word interrupting the cluster
  3. To be classified as repetitive, the phrase has to be used in four or more Psalms (repeated use in a Psalm did not count).
  4. The final order of the phrases would be descending order of Psalm repetition, followed by the order of the Psalter.

Here, then, is the Psalm of Psalms:

You are LORD of heaven’s angels,[i]
You, O LORD,[ii]
      Confound all who make trouble.[iii]
Steady love enduring forever.[iv]
The name of the LORD:[v]
      “God Above All,”[vi]
      From this time on and forever.[vii]

Maker of heaven and earth,[viii]
      I know you, LORD.[ix]
Be not far from me;[x]
      Hide not from me.[xi]
Over all the earth:[xii]
      Praise the LORD,[xiii]
      The LORD, O my soul![xiv]

[i]יהוה אלהי/אלהים צבאוֹת Adonai Elohai*/Elohim Tsabaoth – nine repeats in seven Psalms:

  1. Psa 46:8 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God* of Jacob is our stronghold;
  2. Psa 46:12 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God* of Jacob is our stronghold;
  3. Psa 48:9 As we have heard, so have we seen In the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God; God will establish her forever;
  4. Psa 59:6 You, O LORD God of hosts, the God* of Israel, Awake to punish all the nations; Do not be gracious to any who are treacherous in iniquity;
  5. Psa 69:7 May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God* of Israel;
  6. Psa 80:5 O LORD God of hosts, How long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people?;
  7. Psa 80:20 O LORD God of hosts, restore us; Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved;
  8. Psa 84:9 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God* of Jacob! Selah;
  9. Psa 89:9 O LORD God* of hosts, who is like You, O mighty LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You.

[ii] כּי אתּה יהוה Qui atah Adonai – six repeats in six Psalms

  1. Psa 4:9 In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.
  2. Psa 38:16 For I hope in You, O LORD; You will answer, O Lord my God.
  3. Psa 83:19 That they may know that You alone, whose name is the LORD, Are the Most High over all the earth.
  4. Psa 86:17 Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
  5. Psa 91:9 For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
  6. Psa 97:9 For You are the LORD Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.

[iii] כּל פּעלי און Kal pa-ahleh aven – seven repeats in six Psalms

  1. Psa 5:6 The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.
  2. Psa 6:9 Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.
  3. Psa 14:4 Do all the workers of wickedness not know, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call upon the Lord?
  4. Psa 92:8 That when the wicked sprouted up like grass And all who did iniquity flourished, It was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.
  5. Psa 92:10 For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD, For, behold, Your enemies will perish; All who do iniquity will be scattered.
  6. Psa 94:4 They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.
  7. Psa 101:8 Every morning I will destroy all the wicked of the land, So as to cut off from the city of the LORD all those who do iniquity.

[iv] כּי לעוֹלם חסדּו Qui le-ohlam hesdo – 34 repeats in six Psalms

  1. Psa 100:5 For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.
  2. Psa 106:1 Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  3. Psa 107:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  4. Psa 117:2 For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD!
  5. Psa 118:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  6. Psa 118:2 Oh let Israel say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
  7. Psa 118:3 Oh let the house of Aaron say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
  8. Psa 118:4 Oh let those who fear the LORD say, “His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
  9. Psa 118:29 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  10. Psa 136:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  11. Psa 136:2 Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  12. Psa 136:4 To Him who alone does great wonders, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
  13. Psa 136:5 To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
  14. Psa 136:6 To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
  15. Psa 136:7 To Him who made the great lights, For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
  16. Psa 136:8 The sun to rule by day, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  17. Psa 136:9 The moon and stars to rule by night, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  18. Psa 136:10 To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  19. Psa 136:11 And brought Israel out from their midst, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  20. Psa 136:12 With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  21. Psa 136:13 To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  22. Psa 136:14 And made Israel pass through the midst of it, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
  23. Psa 136:15 But He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  24. Psa 136:16 To Him who led His people through the wilderness, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
  25. Psa 136:17 To Him who smote great kings, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  26. Psa 136:18 And slew mighty kings, For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
  27. Psa 136:19 Sihon, king of the Amorites, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  28. Psa 136:20 And Og, king of Bashan, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  29. Psa 136:21 And gave their land as a heritage, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  30. Psa 136:22 Even a heritage to Israel His servant, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  31. Psa 136:23 Who remembered us in our low estate, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
  32. Psa 136:24 And has rescued us from our adversaries, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;
  33. Psa 136:25 Who gives food to all flesh, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
  34. Psa 136:26 Give thanks to the God of heaven, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

[v] את שׁם יהוה Et-shem Adonai – six repeats in six Psalms

  1. Psa 102:16 So the nations will fear the name of the LORD And all the kings of the earth Your glory.
  2. Psa 103:1 A Psalm of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
  3. Psa 113:1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD.
  4. Psa 135:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; Praise Him, O servants of the LORD,
  5. Psa 148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.
  6. Psa 148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.

[vi] על כּל אלהים El kal Elohim – six repeats in five Psalms

  1. Psa 57:6 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth.
  2. Psa 57:12 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth.
  3. Psa 95:3 For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods,
  4. Psa 96:4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.
  5. Psa 97:9 For You are the LORD Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.
  6. Psa 108:6 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, And Your glory above all the earth.

[vii] מעתּה ועד עוֹלם Meh-ah-tah Ahd Olam – five repeats in five Psalms

  1. Psa 113:2 Blessed be the name of the LORD From this time forth and forever.
  2. Psa 115:18 But as for us, we will bless the LORD From this time forth and forever. Praise the LORD!
  3. Psa 121:8 The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.
  4. Psa 125:2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the LORD surrounds His people From this time forth and forever.
  5. Psa 131:3 O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever.

[viii] עשׂה שׁמים וארץ Osey shamayim vahretz – five repeats in five Psalms

  1. Psa 115:15 May you be blessed of the LORD, Maker of heaven and earth.
  2. Psa 121:2 My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
  3. Psa 124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
  4. Psa 134:3 May the LORD bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth.
  5. Psa 146:6 Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever

[ix] ידעתּי כּי יהוה  Yahdahti qui Adonai – four repeats in four Psalms

  1. Psa 20:7 Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven With the saving strength of His right hand.
  2. Psa 119:75 I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
  3. Psa 135:5 For I know that the LORD is great And that our Lord is above all gods.
  4. Psa 140:13 I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted And justice for the poor.

[x] אל תּרחק ממּנּי El tirhaq mimehni – four repeats in four Psalms

  1. Psa 22:12 Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help.
  2. Psa 35:22 Thou hast seen it, O LORD, do not keep silent; O Lord, do not be far from me.
  3. Psa 38:22 Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me!
  4. Psa 71:12 O God, do not be far from me; O my God, hasten to my help!

[xi] אל תּסתּר ממּנּי El ta-stehr mimehni – four repeats in four verses

  1. Psa 27:9 Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation!
  2. Psa 102:3 Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; Incline Your ear to me; In the day when I call answer me quickly.
  3. Psa 119:19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Your commandments from me.
  4. Psa 143:7 Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails; Do not hide Your face from me, Or I will become like those who go down to the pit.

[xii] על כּל הארץ El kal ha-ahretz – five repeats in four Psalms

  1. Psa 47:3 For the LORD Most High is to be feared, A great King over all the earth.
  2. Psa 57:6 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Thy glory be above all the earth.
  3. Psa 57:12 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Thy glory be above all the earth.
  4. Psa 83:19 That they may know that Thou alone, whose name is the LORD, Art the Most High over all the earth.
  5. Psa 97:9 For Thou art the LORD Most High over all the earth; Thou art exalted far above all gods.

[xiii] הללוּ את יהוה Hallelu aht Adonai – five repeats in four Psalms

  1. Psa 113:1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD.
  2. Psa 117:1 Praise the LORD, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples!
  3. Psa 135:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; Praise Him, O servants of the LORD,
  4. Psa 148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights!
  5. Psa 148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps;

[xiv] נפשׁי את יהוה Neph-shi et Adonai – six repeats in three Psalms

  1. Psa 103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits;
  2. Psa 103:22 Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!
  3. Psa 104:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
  4. Psa 104:35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth And let the wicked be no more. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
  5. Psa 146:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

The Memory Castle – A Homecoming

Just over three weeks ago, I began the task of memorizing a key (Marian Psalter) verse for all 150 Psalms, using the concept of a Memory Castle – a symbolic route through (in this case) ten rooms of my house, in each of which I identified 15 objects or portals to which I could attach a different verse from the Marian Psalter.

I would first connect a different verse in a decade of verses with a portal in each of the ten rooms of my castle. Then I would make ten flashcards, with the portal on the front and the verse on the back. Then I would revisit the verses and expand the ways in which I needed to reinforce my ability to remember particular words and phrases of the verse.

These reinforcing ideas did not necessarily have anything to do with the portal itself, although sometimes they did. I had read that the practice of using a memory castle had more to do with placing elaborate, nonsensical visual connections at a particular portal (because the portal could be used to remember other lists or series).

A couple of examples might help to illustrate the concept.

The portal for Psalm 69 – “Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair.” is my bathroom sink. For some reason, the first phrase came easily to me, but not the second one. I was reading Huckleberry Finn at the time, so I imagined Jim saying the verse, and complaining at the end, “so dat I am in dis pear” (the fruit was a prison). The concept of a man imprisoned in a pear proved easy to remember.

None of this had anything to do with my bathroom sink, but for some reason, the sink became linked in my mind with Jim’s peculiar troubles in his pear prison. The Memory Castle worked.

One portal was a chair – and I imagined an artist named Karl Kohlhase sitting in the chair singing a version of the verse I was committing to memory. Another was a pair of masks hanging on our dining room wall, which I imagined saying “Why is it, O sea, that you flee; O Jordan, that you turn back?” Repetition helped, of course, but this additional memory practice of a Memory Castle broke down the work into more manageable segments.

It took me three weeks, working a couple of hours a day. I would typically review the ten verses I had just learned, along with the ten previous verses. It seemed important to allow a little time between repeats, so that I could identify where the trouble spots were (Lord, God, or You? – does the verse include the connector “and”?). I also like using the rosary beads to mark where I happen to be.

I am able to recite all 150 verses in just under an hour. At this point, I often take the time to review my flashcards or database to check the accuracy of my memory – and at times I still get stuck on a word or a phrase. I believe I could cut this recitation time in half with repetition.

So what now?

  1. Through repetition, these verses will become second nature to me. I have already been able to use them praying with others, individually and in worship. Eventually, I hope to be able to recite a verse, given the number of a Psalm, as well as bring to mind a blessing, praise or lament from this collection in my mind and heart.
  2. I have already experimented with singing some of these memory verses – some of which have ready-made tunes attached to them, and some of which I compose myself. I hope to be able to sing all of the memory verses.
  3. I hope to be able to expand this repertoire to include – as an initial step, the incipit (or first verse) of the Psalm, if this is not the memory verse. And then, as a second step, to memorize the entire Psalm, probably with a scripture song as a memory aid. For this undertaking, I must decide whether to use existing songs (in various translations), or to convert or compose songs using the NRSV.

Let’s Eat! God Rolls Away Our Reproach

160306-GraphicSermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Bo Gordy-Stith at Whatcoat UMC on Sunday, March 6, 2016 as part of a Lent series: Christ Heals Our Past to Save Our Future (Jesus Completes God’s Salvation History). Sermon text: Joshua 5:9-12. The key verse is Joshua 5:12:

The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

Give and Tell (God’s Story Well)

160214-GraphicSermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Bo Gordy-Stith at Whatcoat UMC on Sunday, February 14, 2016 as part of an Lent series: Christ Heals Our Past to Save Our Future (Jesus Completes God’s Salvation History). Sermon text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11. The key verses are Deuteronomy 26:8-10:

But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to theLord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him.

Happiness is Believing in God’s Promises

151220-GraphicSermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Vicki Gordy-Stith at Whatcoat UMC on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015 as part of an Advent series: The Waiting Room (Doctor Luke Prepares Us for the Master Healer). Sermon text: Luke 1:39-45. The key verse is Luke 1:45:

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!

BKOOL with the KICKR (on a snowy day)

BKOOL-3D-VR-World-trainerI tried the BKOOL ride simulator today and wrote a lot about it here. It was a blast riding with a half dozen other riders on a course in Dubai! We had ourselves a race! The ANT+ or Bluetooth pairing worked seamlessly, without my babysitting and without a lot of annoying signal dropouts.

I didn’t play any music – I’ll fix that next time. First impressions: it’s a kick riding real time with others in a sim world, and the tech works remarkably well. On the downside, the workouts are nowhere near as varied as the Sufferfest interval workouts, and the resistance makes the entire ride a hammerfest. The $15 monthly subscription price is pretty hefty as well.

More to follow, I’m sure. It was a great way to spend part of our snowy day!