Psalms, Revised Songbird Version

Psalm 29, Take Two

Psalm 29 (Revised Songbird Version) — This will be our Call to Worship on Sunday.


Leader: Put it into words, you angels: our Lord is a God of glory and strength.

People: Put it into words; speak out loud the glory of God's name!

Leader: Worship our Lord in the irresistible wonder of holiness.

People: When we hear the waves crash, we hear God.

Leader: God’s voice speaks stateliness and wildness, too.

People: God's voice breaks mighty trees the way we snap twigs under our feet.

Leader: God’s voice moves all creation, the land and the creatures and the people.

People: When we see flames, they remind us of God's power.

Leader: When we feel an earthquake, we get a taste of God's strength. Put it into words!

People: Glory! Glory!!

Leader: Whatever happens, flood or fire, earthquake or windstorm, God will be with us.

All: God will help us, whatever comes. God will help us and give us peace.


Psalms, Revised Songbird Version

Put it into words

My continuing obsession with Psalm 29 led to this responsive reading, which is an interlacing of the NRSV and the Revised Songbird Version.

One: Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Many: Put it into words, you angels: our Lord is a God of glory and strength.

One: Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

Many: Put it into words of prayer and praise; speak out loud the glory of God's name; worship our Lord in the irresistible wonder of holiness.

One: The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

Many: When we hear the waves crash, we hear God.

One: The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

Many: There is power and dignity in the voice of God.

One: The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

Many: God's voice could break the mightiest trees the way twigs snap under our feet.

One: He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

Many: All the land is moved by God's voice.

One: The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

Many: When we see flames, they remind us of God's power.

One: The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

Many: When we feel an earthquake, we get a taste of God's strength.

One: The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!"

Many: Glory! Glory!!

One: The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

Many: Whatever happens, flood or fire, earthquake or windstorm, God will be with us.

One: May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

All: God help us, whatever may come. God help us and give us peace.


Inclusive Language, Pray First, Psalms, Revised Songbird Version

What we say

It's the fourth of January, and I'm working on the details of this Pray First thing. I asked the question on Twitter, if I pray right before I go to sleep, is that Praying First, prior to sleeping, or is it Praying Last, the last thing I do before passing out completely?

(Someone suggested being less linear, but of course that was someone who didn't know the context. Still, something to consider.)

It's troubling to me how often being prayerful leads to apparent unconsciousness. It happens to me at bedtime, for sure, but also as I drift in and out of the world around me in the dark of winter morning. 

And I'm interested in the word I mumble repeatedly, if mumbling is something you can do in the silence of your mind. I mumble, "Lord," and it happens a lot.

This is a word I've trained out of my liturgical writing. It's so Anglophile, so feudal, so unrelated to anything we know about in 21st century America.

But there it is, coming out of my metaphorical mouth, "Lord." And it doesn't feel like a literary reference. It feels like a personal way of talking to God, where "Oh, God" feels like something I would say in frustration or in formality. 

"Lord" feels intimate. 

Fifteen years ago, in the run-up to the first enormous transition of my adult life, I felt attached to the idea of God as Mother. I'm not sure I ever wanted to go with the idea of Goddess. That had other freight attached to it. Well, do did "mother." Serious, serious emotional, personal baggage weighed down the possibility of God as Mother for this bird. I had spent, gosh, probably seven or eight years wrestling with that word, ever since I came to Maine and was introduced to the idea of inclusive language.

Funny, do we ever think of calling God "Lady?" Father/Mother, we get that. But Lord/Lady? That pairing feels like an announcement at a Court Ball, not a set of words for prayer or hymns or liturgy. 

In the Psalm for this Sunday, which is 29, the NRSV gives us the marvelous word "Ascribe."

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor. (That's Psalm 29:1-2, by the way.)

Ascribe means "to refer to a supposed cause, source, or author." In my preacher group this morning we looked it up, and we also looked up some other translations of the Psalm. "Give unto the Lord," says the King James Version, which in our 21st century cadence sounds like an old-fashioned way of saying we're giving the Lord glory and strength instead of acknowledging what God already has.

Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (That's your KJV for 29:1-2.)

I love words, especially pretty ones. I love the way a different version makes me thing again about what people meant a long, long time ago and how obscure it sounds to American ears in this new year of the weird number. Is it Twenty-Eleven? Or Two Thousand Eleven? Whatever year it is, how do we say the Psalm, for it begs to be spoken aloud, in a way that makes sense to the people saying it, recognizing that God's ears already hear it in God's language?

Whatever that is.

Cedars I want to make the ideas accessible, while making the point that God's power is beyond our limited concepts of accessibility. If the Psalm speaks of the cedars of Lebanon and the wilderness of Kadesh, do I draw a parallel with the natural features we know in North Yarmouth and its surrounds, creating a comparison that might draw a snicker, or do I over-explain Lebanon and Kadesh after a show-off bluestocking trip to the Bible Dictionary?

I want the words we say to make some kind of sense without losing the rhythm of  poetry and the beauty of wonder.

Which brings me back to where I started. How do I figure out how to proceed?

Pray first.

Even if the first word out of my mouth or inside my puzzlingly retrograde head is "Lord." 

Put it into words, you angels: our Lord is a God of glory and strength.
Put it into words of prayer and praise; speak out loud the glory of God's name; worship our Lord in the irresistible wonder of holiness.  (That's your Revised Songbird Version.)

And if you find yourself feeling small and imperfect in the darkest hours of the morning, or worried and inconsequential before you lie down at night, and you want to say "Lord," I think it's okay. She'll forgive you, I feel certain of it.

(Image can be found here. And yes, I'm trying to get back to lectionary blogging. This week is Baptism of the Lord A.  See, it's everywhere!)

Liturgy, Psalms, Revised Songbird Version

Litany on Psalm 121

(A collusion amongst the KJV, the NRSV, but ultimately the Revised Songbird Version.)

Reader One: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.

All: We lift up our eyes to the hills — from where will our help come?

Reader Two: Where *does* our help come from?

Reader One: Our help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Women: God who keeps us will not slumber.

Reader Two: God will not slumber?

Reader One: God keeps watch over all people and will not slumber *or* sleep.

Men: God is our keeper. God is our shade, right beside us.

Reader Two: Right beside us?

Reader One: Yes. Right beside. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

All: God is always with us.

Reader One: God will preserve you from all evil. 

Right Side: God will take care of our souls.

Left Side: God will keep our lives.

Reader Two: Even my life?

Reader One: Even that. God will keep your going in and your coming out, always.

All: God will preserve us, going out and coming in, in this time and forevermore.

Psalms, The Inner Landscape

From the Snare of the Fowler

It was a long night, with little sleep, and after trying fruitlessly to Facebook or Twitter myself to unconsciousness with my iPhone, I looked up this week's Lectionary passages. Not that I hadn't seen them before. Yesterday morning I met with my study group, and I read them ahead of time. Well, I skimmed Jeremiah. But I read the others, I thought.

In the night, a Psalm seems right. After all, they are the prayers and songs of people just like us, trying to put into ritual form the human experience: joy, anger, fear, disappointment, repentance, praise and even a thirst for revenge.

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation. (Psalm 91:1-6,14-16)

And there it was, what I needed to read and hear as I struggled in the night. God will deliver you–us! me!!–from the snare of the fowler. 

Fowler's snare I'm not a bird-watcher. I like birds, I think they are beautiful, but I'm not a student of birds. I dream of flying, often. The resonance of Songbird as a nickname, a name that goes back to the late 1990s for me, really comes from a pitiful source. In Ibsen's play, "A Doll's House," Torvald refers to Nora as a bird, and when I saw the play in the winter of 1999, I felt like Nora. I was divorced, hoping to meet someone again, confused about what I wanted in life, but lonely. I had made a not-so-good choice about dating someone and wanted to duck him on AOL IM. So I needed a new identity, not just my first initial and last name. Thus, Songbird, which has reappeared in various forms for close to a dozen years now, on my license plate and on my blog and in sundry email addresses.

This poor bird is caught in the fowler's snare, and as my previous blog, Set Free, implied, I knew I was the one holding myself in a cage of some kind. I spent years trying to define it so I could get out of it. But that became a sort of cage, too.

I changed blogs, hoping that would help. I even gave up the nickname, partly, but that makes no difference. It's a cute name. The name is not the problem.

I'm inclined to get tangled up, to be perplexed by human beings in my life, really more in my personal life than in my ministry, though it happens there, too! But especially in my personal life I have been a bird, like Nora, or I have tried to be, at the same time I claimed I wanted to fly free. 

Bird_180 Somehow, in the middle of the night, reading this Psalm, I got a different message. 

God wants me to be free. God will free me from the fowler's snare.



Let's give that a fly.



Children, Generation Hug, Grrrls, Psalms


Today I got an email from LP during school hours, which seemed unusual. She titled it "Passing Time."

The school has been on lockdown since 9:30. We don't know why, but I'm sure we're okay because the principal made an announcement about ten minutes ago, telling the teachers to check their email. Everything seems to be under control. My whole math class is crammed into one corner of the room. I'm using my new netbook to write this. BORED. And hungry. And my feet hurt. My back is okay, though. Anyway, I love you!

The ordinary concerns of the day slipped into the background as I looked for news on the local paper's website. Suddenly I understood why there had been no answer when I called the high school, hoping to arrange an early pick-up for a doctor's appointment. 

I heard from her again.

The vice principal came in and searched us, but we're still on lockdown and don't know what happened.

Soon after, a friend posted the link to my Facebook page, explaining there had been a threatening note left on the wall of a bathroom–a specific threat, they called it–and Pure Luck called to report a robocall from the high school explaining the lockdown. 

I think the last lockdown they had at Downtown High School was on 9/11, when someone appeared to be brandishing a weapon in the general neighborhood, and it seemed like a good idea to keep everyone inside.

In both cases, it wasn't a real emergency. The person with a weapon didn't actually have a weapon. And today, after a thorough search, school officials found nothing. 

LP says they missed her backpack. I hope that wasn't just Goody Two-Shoes profiling, but an actual oversight. She also says the vice-principal was a nice lady who apologized for patting her down.

Most of the girls in high school these days aren't wearing anything bulky enough to conceal a weapon, in my humble opinion.

They let the kids out at 12:30 and sent them home. When we finally saw each other, and as we sat in the waiting room at the doctor's office, I asked how she was, really? It's hard not to imagine the worst case scenarios we've read about in other schools. Could there have been a student running around the halls with a gun? But LP said that although she imagined the bad things, she had a sense that her life was not over, that she had more things to learn and do, that it would not end this day.

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. (Psalm 71:1-6)

There are several people in my general circle of church and friends in a kind of lockdown right now, holding for more information, feeling inspected or searched, wondering just what the future will hold. When I read a Psalm like the one above, I don't fall back into a child-like belief that God will rescue me just because I am a good girl. I know too much for that, now. But I do feel the comfort of knowing that on a day when I am crammed into a corner, crowded by others, waiting to hear the outcome, wondering what lies beyond the door, I am not the first person to talk her way through it by calling on God. 

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Faith, Grace, If I Were Preaching, Midway, Psalms

Oh, crap!

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."

The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. (Psalm 126, NRSV)

One of the things that gives me hope is quite simply the flip side of the thing that makes me frustrated about my own life and the lives of those around me: we tend to repeat ourselves. Sometimes I wonder if I am caught in a feedback loop, and I really worry when it sounds like I am my mother or my father having a conversation with me when I so strive to be a more awake and enlightened parent than they ever were, in my opinion. Although looking back I guess they didn't do such a bad job, really–after all, my brother and I are both productive members of society, raising kids who are thriving in one way or another, smart kids with interests and talents, and even one adult among them now, gone out into the world with his own harvests to anticipate.

But I don't love it when I hear frustration creep into my voice, when my old wounds and rejections become part of my parent-child relationships.

In fact, I hate that crap.

I'm pretty familiar with crap this morning. Sam strained or sprained something the other day and has been on a regimen of Tramadol and rest since Thursday afternoon, and this has thrown off his schedule of "bidness," and this morning I came downstairs to find a big pile of…that stuff. It cleaned up easily enough, but it served as a reminder of the way we all have habits to which we return unconsciously, primal tendencies that assert themselves in moments of stress, or exhaustion. 

They're not all as charming as the way I slip back into my Southern accent at the end of a long day or when speaking to an unknown group of people.

Communities have habits, too, patterns of relationship to which they revert when things aren't going well, or even when they are going *too* well. Even churches do this. If things aren't going well, God must not care about us, we think. Or if things are going extremely well, we may neglect the life of the spirit in favor of the more visible successes of life.

This psalm provides a vehicle for getting back on track. It's a song that says, oh, yes! We have become disconnected at times, and we thought God might be neglecting us or punishing us, and we plodded along watering our work with our tears–but we came back from the field with shouts of joy!!!

It sounds simplistic. God took stuff away, then for some reason God gave it back. I sometimes think we don't give those ancient writers of hymns and psalms full credit for the ritual nature of their compositions. Come back to God, they are saying, knowing full well that even a faithful person may have a bad crop or a dry season. Come back to God, because why ever you do it, it's a good thing. Come back to God, because believing you can handle it all yourself will surely lead to saying, "Oh, crap! Why did I think that?"

Come back to God, and be renewed by the natural mystery of cycles and seasons. Come back to God and give thanks that going away was always part of the human condition. Come back to God and give thanks that it is never too late to rejoice. Come back to God and give thanks that it is never too late to return.