“Our ancestors have told us the deeds You performed in their time.” (44:2)
The sacred texts in our religious traditions are stories that have come to us from our ancestors. Archeology can confirm that there was a King David and draw maps of the city of David, but we can only learn the character of David, both good and bad, from Biblical stories. The Bible, even the Torah, is not as much a book of law (although it contains long passages of law) as it is a book of stories. We learn a set of values from the accounts of Biblical characters, God included, filtered through centuries of Israelite and Jewish life.
“Send forth Your light and Your truth.” (43:3)
Israel is described by Isaiah as an or goyim, “light of the nations.” By the example of their behavior, Israel is charged with the responsibility to teach the non-monotheistic world about belief in one God. In the ancient worldview of of the Hebrew prophets, there were God followers and there were pagans. The former were moral because of their adherence to God’s revealed scripture, and the latter were immoral because they ignored God’s instructions to the world. In our world we have several monotheistic God-following religions, several ways to follow God, all of them true. Our job, is to show that the way we live our lives is illumined by one of those sets of truths.
“Why so downcast, my soul?” (42:6)
A brief conversation with the soul: “Hey soul – it’s a beautiful day and I’d like to enjoy myself. Stop dragging me down with your nagging!”
“No problem. I’ll stop when you give some attention to these issues that you’ve been ignoring.”
“Those are your issues, not mine. I just need a break! Let me enjoy myself for once and I won’t be so angry.”
“Look – your problem is not your co-workers, your spouse, your children, or the driver who doesn’t accelerate fast enough. Your problem is deeper, a spiritual problem. You are looking for ways to experience the rush of anger because it makes you feel alive.”
Listen to your soul.
“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.
“I did not withhold my words.” (40:10)
There are several ways that the Psalmist’s sentence could end. The conclusion could be regret, futility, or success. I did not withhold my words and I regret having said things that I cannot unsay; or I did not withhold my words but I am glad that I spoke truth to power, even though nothing has changed; or I did not withhold my words and the person or organization I was addressing has changed because of what I said. The first harms relationships and feels bad, so it was better left unsaid. The second feels good but accomplishes nothing, but might have a positive influence on witnesses. The third effected positive change. Before you open your mouth, consider in which category your words are likely to fall.