Friday, May 8, 2009

Jerusalem Sings: Personification in Psalm 147

Two Sunflowers Move in the Yellow Room.
"Ah, William, we're weary of weather,"
said the sunflowers, shining with dew."
Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?"
They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.
William Blake(1757-1827)

Blake dazzles us with a tale of a meeting he (William Blake) had with an inanimate part of nature--the sunflower. Can they speak? Can they request a room for their weary branches and flowers? In the mind of Blake and all of us who imagine the glistening sunflowers and their plight in nature, the answer is positively yes!

We all engage in personification, it has penetrated our speech and found favor in our thought, why not find it in our praising of God? To personify is to present a thing, an idea, or an animal as acting in the manner of humans (persons).

Personification is prevalent in many of the psalms, particularly the songs we sing for kabbalat shabbat--psalms 95-99, with phrases like "Let the heavens rejoice and the earth dance, the sea roars, the fields and all around them sing out". When we call out to God in praise it is not in order to fulfill some ritual obligation or to earn some brownie points, rather it is an expression of 'kosi revaya' (my cup is overflowed). We are so enamoured with the notion of God's presence, His involvement in our lives and His relationship with us, that we collectively call out in unison in praise.

But we are not alone in this endeavor--nature joins in, all the elements 'feel' the awe of the Lord as well as 'share' in the joy of our faith.

In Psalm 147, a psalm dedicated to the collective praise of God, another personification takes place, another inanimate object joins the collective praise--Jerusalem.

שבחי ירושלים את ה' הללי אלוהיך ציון, כי חזק בריחי שעריך ברך בניך בקרבך השם גבולך שלום חלב חטים ישביעך

12 Exalt the Lord, Jerusalem; praise Your God, Zion,
13 for He strengthens the bolts of your gates and blesses your people within You.
14 He makes your borders peaceful and satiates you with the finest wheat.

The psalmist directs his words to Jerusalem encouraging her to call out to God, to Praise Him for all He has done to the beautiful city. It is a unique way to integrate the praise of Israel with her Homeland and Jerusalem as her capital. Implicit in this message is that we turn to God not only for our lives, our sustenance, our history, but also for providing us with a home, a perfect land, a holy city, a unifying center for His special nation.

Turning to Jerusalem and encouraging her to praise God is the psalmists way of acknowledging this precious gift called Israel and that when the nation comes together from the exile and inhabits its borders, this is a unique opportunity for the people, but also for the city herself.

A physical, spiritual, metaphysical, alliterative personification! That's a mouthful and a wonderful addition to the tapestry of the praises of God in Tehillim.