Sunday, August 9, 2009

Taking It With You

Tehillim for Every Occasion

Tehillim were not meant to be used as a soothsayer or as a magical divination. One should not be searching for the words which will make one’s crisis disappear. Instead, Tehillim should be considered a form of therapy for the individual who is either suffering, scared, or joyous and thankful.

When confronted by a crisis one tends to lose oneself and one’s connection with God. Tehillim is a means towards reconnecting with the self and with God. Each chapter has a different focus, each song reflects a different angle or motif that affected the psalmist and can help us get in touch with those feelings as well.

Reciting the specific psalm is meant to inspire us, engage our minds and hearts towards dealing with the crises before us and to engage our God in our journey towards emerging from this particular crisis.

Here is a list of psalms which relate to certain emotional experiences:

Psalm 1—Appreciating the everyday struggle and the capacity to overcome negative influences and pressures in one’s life leading the way to realizing a metaphysical fortunate existence.

Psalm 2—A meditation about leadership and kingship, acknowledging there are powerful forces which aim to uproot the messengers of God. The king and nation must have faith in the ultimate destruction of evil in the world.

Psalm 3—What happens when those closest to you rebel? How do you feel when you are partially responsible for their errant ways? When it threatens your capacity to parent, or even to exist? Turn to God. Have faith in His guiding hand and accept your predicament while at the same time be encouraged that you can overcome it.

Psalm 5—Morning confidence and even expectation is crucial in how we approach our day. We need to sometimes feel that we can conquer, fulfilling the divine imperative. We do not deny the reality of our present but with prayer and expectation we hope for a brighter future.

Psalm 6—Depression. When we are down all the little hindrances in or world are magnified paralyzing us from functioning. This psalm teaches us to turn to God as our therapist. He will help us emerge from this dark predicament and defeat our demons.

Psalm 7—Justification. Sometimes the cards are turned against us for no reason. We feel the need to justify our actions and question our needless suffering. We turn to God for guidance at why this evil chases us and wears us down. Ultimately we will acknowledge God’s true justice and be able to sing His praises.

Psalm 8—Philosophy. We forget to marvel at God’s world. We must always be aware of our precarious human condition—humbly finite and insignificant on the one hand, and almost infinite and divine on the other. Between the two lies the secret of our human experience.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Guarding Sins

"If God keeps tabs on our sins, O God, who can stand?"

This statement appears in many of king David's psalms in different forms. "God, You can't possibly expect us to succeed in this game of life? You cannot employ Your harsh rules of rewards and punishments since it would mean the end of humankind! God, if You didn't invoke Your concept of teshuvah and the capacity to redeem our sins, surely we would not survive! God, do You really want us dead? Surely, You would rather us alive and praising You?

All these weak arguments produce images of a guilty defendant standing before the judge conjuring up last ditch reasonings which have no logic and value for the executioner. Does God need our existence? Are we that impotent, unable to live a semi-successful life? If God made it too hard for us, why did He bother? Does He need our praisings?

The word tishmor תשמור translated as 'keep' is unclear. Not because we are unsure of the proper translation as we have ample contexts to observe, but because in our context other words would have better conveyed the point. תספור, תמנה, תפקוד, count, list, recall...

Tishmor connotes guarding, protecting; why would the author of the psalm phrase it in this way--if our sins guard you God, who would stand?

The question perhaps relates to how to view and judge people. If you look at someone and immediately see their deficiencies, their errors and their capacity for evil, you will very quickly have no friends. Nobody wants to be around a critical, preachy, though honest, individual. People are aware of their own misgivings and each one of us struggles with self-improvement. But to hear it constantly from our spouse, our parent or our child is enough to make us go very far away from them.

Seeing and focusing on the deficiencies of people is a way to guard yourself and raise your status above others. Keeping tabs on people might lead you to a more comfortable and confident self-perception. (I wonder if this is not the fascination in the media for reporting all the dirt that's fit to print. Why must I constantly have a tally of the murders, rapes, thievery and corruption in my headlines?)

What I am saying then is that seeing good in others is not a reflection of your righteousness but rather a psychological therapy for personal development and maturity. When you choose to focus on others' capacity for good you raise your own standards and seek to live a more meaningful existence.

To return to our poem. Our psalmist has sinned. He is in the throes of punishment and pain, the depths of darkness due solely to his wrongdoing. From those depths he calls out to God, pleading, demanding to be heard, to be attended to, to call out to God. What does he say?

"God, do not guard my sins, do not let my capacity for evil envelop Your perception of me. I may be down but I can rise. I can repent, I can hope..."
"God, teach us how to look not on the negative side of others, but on the potential they have inside to come back to Your grace. If You were to be cynical or realistic about the human endeavor--who could stand before You?"

Instead, our supplication before God in our moment of need is to reassert His position of optimistically leaning towards the capacity for good in humans and in so doing, teaching us to ultimately emulate His ways and shape our human condition based on this guiding principle.