Friday, April 11, 2014

The penitential Psalms - Psalm 142 v5 (On meditation)

Jacob's Ladder, Morgan Bible c1240s or 50s
In verse 5 of Psalm 142, the psalmist talks about meditating on God's works.  This verse is important from two perspectives.  First as a reminder of one of the key tools of our spiritual life, meditation.  But secondly to warn of some of the dangers in this area.

Meditating on God’s works: Creation and God’s providential plan for his people

In the earlier penitential psalms, the speaker worked though a series of steps to escape from the darkness that encompass his soul: he offered tears of contrition; confessed his sins; and did penance in various forms.  Verse 5 of this psalm though, adds another important rung to this ladder to heaven, namely seeking knowledge of God’s ways through meditation on God's works.

The starting point for knowledge, the psalmist asserts, is meditation on God’s works. Verse 5 states:

Memor fui diérum antiquórum, meditátus sum in ómnibus opéribus tuis: * in factis mánuum tuárum meditábar.
Memor fui dierum antiquorum, meditatus sum in omnibus operibus tuis, in factis manuum tuarum recogitabam.
Recordabar dierum antiquorum; meditabar omnia opera tua : facta manuum tuarum loquebar.

memor, oris mindful of, thoughtful of. to think of.; Thinks of, i.e., worships Thee, praises Thee.
antiquus, a, um old, ancient
meditor, atus sum, ari, to think, plan, devise, meditate
factum, i, n. (facio), work, deed

I remembered the days of old, I meditated on all your works: I meditated upon the works of your hands.
I call to mind the days of old, I ponder all Thy deeds and with the works of Thy hands.
Yet do I remember the time past; I muse upon all thy works. Yea, I exercise myself in the works of thy hands.

A reasonably literal translation is: 'I remembered (called to mind, memor fui) olden days (dierum antiquorum), I meditated (meditatus sum) on all your works (in omnibus operibus tuis): I meditated/pondered/think (meditabar) upon the works (factum=work, deed) of your hands (manuum tuarum).'

The neo-Vulgate has revises the text somewhat, to make the progression involved here clearer: from calling to mind, to meditating, and then contemplating or pondering (recogitare- consider, weigh, ponder or reflect) the implications.

The verse then reminds us of the path our lectio divina should take.

God's works as a source of hope

The first point to note is that the psalmist does not jump to the 'via negativa', or negative path, which seeks to clear the mind of all created things in order to reach heaven.  On the contrary, he starts from God's works.  And the psalmist makes it clear in the following verses that he is looking to the past as a source of hope: God has acted to help his people in the past, and has promised to do so again - and again and again.  If we simply look at the world around us without the perspective of the hope of heaven, we can easily lose our way; so too if try and we meditate on things seeking the 'via negativa' without first assimilating the important content of our faith.

Hildegarde von Bingen, Book of Divine Works

So when we come to meditate, by all means take the opportunities and things that come to us as our subject.  But try also and balance that with a focus on the events that really matter, such as Our Lord's birth, death and resurrection.

In pointing to God's deeds, the psalmist is, I think, inviting us to recall above all two kinds of God's works.  First, the work of creation itself, evident in nature, society and culture; and secondly God's ongoing providential care of his people down the ages, manifested in particular in the events of salvation history.

Meditating on the wonder of natural creation is important: through it we are reminded of God's power, his goodness and much more.  Through it we can reach knowledge of God's law.  And yes, it should humble us, put our lives into perspective.  For if we wish to escape from sin, we need to develop the true perspective that comes from the hope of heaven.

Psalm 142: Domine, exaudi orationem meam
Psalmus David, quando persequebatur eum Absalom filius ejus.
A psalm of David, when his son Absalom pursued him
1 Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam: áuribus pércipe obsecratiónem meam in veritáte tua : * exáudi me in tua justítia.
Hear, O Lord, my prayer: give ear to my supplication in your truth: hear me in your justice.

2  Et non intres in judícium cum servo tuo: * quia non justificábitur in conspéctu tuo omnis vivens.
And enter not into judgment with your servant: for in your sight no man living shall be justified.
3  Quia persecútus est inimícus ánimam meam: * humiliávit in terra vitam meam.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul: he has brought down my life to the earth.
4  Collocávit me in obscúris sicut mórtuos sæculi : * et anxiátus est super me spíritus meus, in me turbátum est cor meum.
He has made me to dwell in darkness as those that have been dead of old: And my spirit is in anguish within me: my heart within me is troubled.
 Memor fui diérum antiquórum, meditátus sum in ómnibus opéribus tuis: * in factis mánuum tuárum meditábar.
I remembered the days of old, I meditated on all your works: I meditated upon the works of your hands.
6  Expándi manus meas ad te: * ánima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi.
I stretched forth my hands to you: my soul is as earth without water unto you.
7  Velóciter exáudi me, Dómine: * defécit spíritus meus.
Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit has fainted away.
8  Non avértas fáciem tuam a me: * et símilis ero descendéntibus in lacum.
Turn not away your face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
9  Audítam fac mihi mane misericórdiam tuam: * quia in te sperávi.
Cause me to hear your mercy in the morning; for in you have I hoped.
10  Notam fac mihi viam, in qua ámbulem: * quia ad te levávi ánimam meam.
Make the way known to me, wherein I should walk: for I have lifted up my soul to you.
11  Eripe me de inimícis meis, Dómine, ad te confúgi: * doce me fácere voluntátem tuam, quia Deus meus es tu.
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, to you have I fled: Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
12  Spíritus tuus bonus dedúcet me in terram rectam: * propter nomen tuum, Dómine, vivificábis me, in æquitáte tua.
Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land: For your name's sake, O Lord, you will quicken me in your justice.
13  Edúces de tribulatióne ánimam meam: * et in misericórdia tua dispérdes inimícos meos.
You will bring my soul out of trouble: And in your mercy you will destroy my enemies.
14  Et perdes omnes, qui tríbulant ánimam meam, * quóniam ego servus tuus sum.
And you will cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am your servant.

And you can find the next part in this series here.

And you can find the next post in this series on Psalm 142 here.

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