I am at St. Benedict’s Monastery this weeekend for the 20th Anniversary celebration of Studium, the Monastery’s visiting scholar’s program. As regular readers of this blog know,I have benefitted much from several stays at the Monastery over the past few years; the ora et labora rhythm of Benedictine monastic life provides a wonderful environment for my writing.
Because yesterday was the burial day of one of the Sisters who died, the sisters prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the Dead during their communal prayer periods. During evening prayer, one of the psalms we prayed was Psalm 139, a psalm I frequently use in my own prayer and recommend to others.
I’ve prayed with many translations of Psalm 139. What struck me powerfully last evening in the translation that is part of the Evening Prayer for the Dead was verse 6: speaking of his realization that “before a word slips from my tongue, Lord, you know what I will say. Yoou close in on me pressing your hand upon me,” the psalmist admits, “All this overwhelms me–too much to understand.”
Why this particular translation struck me more than other versions of that verse I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it is because it conveys the psalmist’s reaction in such plan, simple terms and it is a reaction I identify with.
If we take the realization of the psalmist to heart – if we really realized the enormity of God’s love and God’s constant presence, I think we share that reaction – it is overwhelming…really too much to understand.
In any translation, Psalm 139 is a beautiful psalm. It is worth spending some time praying with this God from whose love we cannot escape.
Thank you for this. But I have such difficulty with the Old Testament!
Psalm 139 is wonderful, no doubt about it.
But what about verses 19 to 22? All that hatred!
It’s finding verses like that which keeps me from returning to the Bible more often.
Sometimes, when I want to look in the Psalms, I go to Stephen Mitchell’s translations instead, they seem more, well, more Christian somehow. Certainly more loving.
I’m not trying to argue here, I’m just really interested in your response.
Thank you so much,
This is not the place to attempt a long response about Old Testament interpretation. What I would offer is another translation you might like: Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying. With the verses in Psalm 139 you reference (and in many other places) she reframes that as referring to our internal “enemies” if you will – those things that operate to prevent our growth in God.
Thank you so much Susan. I did a fair bit of searching, found a few examples, and have ordered the book. It looks wonderful. Thank you again so much. Marcus
From Nan Merrill’s PSALM 19:
The law of Love is perfect,
reviving the soul;
The testimony of Love is sure,
making wise the simple;
The precepts of Love are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The authority of Love is pure;
enlightening the eyes;
The spirit of Love is wondrous,
The rites of Love are true,
I think you will be pleased with the purchase, Marcus. I have often given people psalms from that book to pray with.