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Friday, April 04, 2008

Psalm 91

Here is the post I was supposed to write tonight before I got sidetracked. I mentioned my Psalms course at lunch a few days ago, and a colleague told me about her teenage daughter who had threatened to run away.

"I pray Psalm 91 for her every night," she remarked. I asked her which version - she thought it was the NAB.

I was brought up in a dispensationalist congregation and we neither prayed nor sung the Psalms. It has been refreshing for me to be introduced to various forms of the metrical Psalter this year. This is Psalm 91 in the version we sang in class this Wed. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

This setting of Psalm 91 is from Voices United: The Hymn and Worship Book of The United Church of Canada. 1996. The United Church Publishing House.

    "I will raise you up on eagle's wings.
    bear you on the breath of dawn,
    make you to shine like the sun,
    and hold you in the palm of my hand."

    You who dwell in the shelter of your God,
    who abide in God's shadow for life,
    say to your God: "My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!"
    The snare of the fowler will never capture you,
    and famine will bring you no fear:
    under God's wings your refuge, God's faithfulness your shield.

    You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day;
    though thousands fall about you, near you it shall not come.
    For to the angels is given the command to guard you in all your ways,
    upon their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you dash your foot against a stone.

    "Because they have set their love upon me I will deliver them,
    I will uphold them because they know my name.
    When they call to me I will answer,
    I will be with them in trouble,
    I will rescue and bring them to honour.
    With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my saving power."
It is a prayer to sing for those we love who are far away, suffering, in illness and danger. It is a way to express our love for others and give them to God. I hope you enjoy this haunting melody. It is good to remember that meter and melody were part and parcel of the original "psalter".


At Sat Apr 05, 06:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting on this, Suzanne. Father Joncas' setting of Psalm 91 is well known, at least in the Catholic community, and often used at funerals or memorial services. Although my family is not Catholic, we sang it at my mom's memorial service - very moving.

There are some interesting textual differences between this setting and what I've seen in the past. The chorus I've sung has always been in the third person: "And He will raise you up..." and I've not seen the last verse ("Because they have set their love upon me...") in an arrangement before. The changes in the Voices United book certainly change the voicing!

While the verses reset Psalm 91, the chorus takes its imagery from Exodus 19:4, Isaiah 40:31 and Matthew 13:43 - very memorable!

See this post for the lyrics as I've previously seen them.


At Sat Apr 05, 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

It is stunningly beautiful and I had never heard it before. Thanks for posting the other lyrics.

Two remarks on voice. First, the original of this hymn and the NAB both use the generic "you" instead of generic "he". I think this is an absolute necessity today. To cast the human being as a male would deprive women of the ability to use this as their voice when praying for a daughter.

Second, and I did not realize this when I posted, this version also removes generic "he" for God. Overall, I find that the removal of "he" for God is very confusing when you read something.

However, some think of the imagery in this Psalm as motherly or feminine. Some think of Shaddai as feminine.

Definitely God is very motherly and the one she loves is also feminine in second Isaiah, so I still have to puzzle through what I think about the gender of God. I don't have any strong feelings about it, but having studied just a little good stuff, recently Mayer Gruber, on this, I am more open to thinking about the motherhood of God than I used to be.

But I still don't think that Shaddai has any feminine meaning. No worries. Its original meaning is still unknown to me.

At Sat Apr 05, 10:40:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

My wife and I attended an exclusive Psalm singing church for some time. We came to love singing the psalms. Some of them still play in our heads.

At Sat Apr 05, 12:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pronouns in psalm 91 can be confusing - I know there have been a few discussions about this issue before, though it seems relatively clear that a human voice is intended in vss 1-13, then God speaks in vss 14-16 (the last verse of lyrics on your example).

See this post for some specific discussion of the pronouns in vss. 1-2 with regards to the underlying textual issues.

As for the voicing of the chorus, I agree that replacing Joncas' original "He" with "I" for God's statements is confusing, though I suppose that they may have done it to maintain consistent voice with the last verse.


At Mon Apr 07, 05:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. I have printed it out to sing and read with my children this week.


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