“He raises his head.” (110:7)
The Psalmist is speaking of a person whose posture suggests that he is confident that he is under the protection of God, a hero, secure in his ability to succeed. This is in contrast to the person who advises “Keep your head down” or “Keep your nose to the grindstone,” who comes from the opposite perspective, suggesting that we keep a low profile and not call attention to ourselves.
During the most important Jewish prayers, we stand upright in an attentive, dignified posture. When addressing the Blessed Holy One, we want to present ourselves well. We do well to approach others with the same confident posture.
“Sing to the LORD a new song.” (98:1)
I like some new music, but the music that really draws me in are the lyrics and melodies that I have heard many times before. I don’t understand why giving God a fresh, newly created, song is better than putting one’s heart and soul into a song that we’ve been singing for millennia. Ironic, isn’t it, that the lyrics of the ‘new song’ that the Psalmist is singing is in the neighborhood of 2500 years old, and we are still greeting the Sabbath with it! So God … I hope you are satisfied with some old songs alongside the new ones.
“Let us take the meadows of God.” (83:13)
People often say that their most spiritual moments come when they are away from other people, the synagogue or church building, and they are by themselves surrounded only by nature. It is in the meadows, amidst the mountains, the desert, or bodies of water, that they find God. I get this. People can be difficult and distracting. But prayer is not only a time to connect with God for its own sake, it is a spiritual discipline meant to refine the human being. And learning to find God while accepting others for who they are, annoying quirks and all, is the highest level of spiritual achievement.
“All peoples, clap hands.” (47:2)
There is no better boost to your enjoyment of music than clapping hands to the beat (except if you are at the symphony listening to classical music). Sway, move your arms and legs, and dance. Let your body vibrate in tune with the music. During prayer, as well, let yourself transcend the intellectual experience of reading words on a page. At appropriate moments, sing along with the cantor and encourage your soul to vibrate to the tune of gratitude, thanksgiving, and dedicating yourself to God’s mitzvot (commands). Some prayers intend to move God to action. More often, prayer intends to transform the pray-er.
“You have wholly transformed his bed of suffering.” (41:4)
There is a difference between emotional or physical pain and suffering. Suffering entails pain, but not all pain needs to be understood as suffering. Pain has a physical or emotional cause. Suffering is a particular interpretation of pain. We suffer when we decide that the pain is unjust. Complaining magnifies pain into suffering, as does blaming and anger. As a rule, negative emotions magnify suffering, and positive emotions, especially laughter, reduce suffering. Quieting one’s breath through prayer or meditation, a form of embracing the pain rather than fighting with it, can also transform and reduce suffering.