Lectio THEN: Psalm 8 (June 8, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible
“Whoever keeps singing of your majesty… you make a fortress”
The praise song “Sanctuary” comes to mind: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary.” The fortress image was at first a military image, which really doesn’t work for me. But it quickly transformed into that tree from Psalm 1, planted by the streams, as I thought of a bird sanctuary or sanctuary for any small, vulnerable creature in need of refuge and safety. I do want to be that kind of sanctuary for others – a place to be, grow in faith, heal and become whole.
Today I feel open. I can breathe deeply and have peace that I know can only come from you, God. Lead me to the place or places you would have me go. Help me to listen for your voice and to be prompt to respond to your call.
Lectio NOW: Psalm 8 (October 17, 2010) NJB
“through the mouths of children”
I cheated a little bit on this psalm. Traditionally while practicing Lectio one would not get up and grab a few more Bible translations and pause to look up the Hebrew. But I was flummoxed. Confounded.
Verse one took me back to the church of my middle school and high school years. There was a “praise” book (in addition to the hymnal) that we frequently used. I wish I could remember what it was called, but I’m pretty sure it was purple. And I hear the pianist (my dad) playing one of the songs we very frequently sang, “Oh, Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!” He could really get that song rocking, as much as a song like that can rock. It’s a simple song with only a few lines that get repeated.
As I continued reading this psalm, I had that song playing in the background of my mind. This is one of those passages from Scripture that I know well and it’s popular. And I’m prepared to not really be surprised, and honestly, to not really even get anything out of it. (Ugh! What a consumer I am!) And I should know better. I should know that when I think I really know something, that’s when I need to be the most attentive, and most alert. But instead, I’m bored, like I always get when I think there’s nothing for me to learn, and when I think I know it all.
But verse two didn’t make sense at all: “even through the mouth of children, or of babes in arms, you make him a fortress, firm against your foes, to subdue the enemy and the rebel.” I read it over and over and over again. The more I read it, the less sense it made. That’s when I had to get out another Bible version, to see if a different translation could offer some clarity. Here’s a sampling:
“From the mouths of infants and sucklings you have founded strength on account of Your foes, to put an end to enemy and avenger.” (Jewish Publication Society)
“You have taught children and nursing infants to give you praise. They silence your enemies who were seeking revenge.” (New Living Translation)
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.” (New Revised Standard Version)
“Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” (English Standard Version)
Can you see my difficulty? Oh, and almost every translation had a footnote on this verse saying “meaning of Hebrew uncertain”. No kidding. This, by the way, is the very sort of dilemma that got me interested in learning Greek and Hebrew in the first place. I couldn’t understand how translations could be so similar, and then suddenly be so different, and I wanted to figure out for myself what was going on.
I continued to read and I began to pray through the psalm, and I told God I didn’t get it. I know that children were often just thought of as another mouth to feed in the ancient world, and that when Jesus says that we should be like little children, it would have been a shocking thing for that time. And I see that the psalmist is naming things in creation that by their very existence declares the glory of God and that includes ‘babes and infants’. All these simple things in the world around us teach can teach us something about God, but we have to pay attention, we have to be aware.
And that is when I realize that I didn’t really expect to see anything in this psalm today, just as no one would have expected a babe to declare the glory of God. And I’m reminded of what I already know: that no matter how hard or where I look, I will never ‘find’ God if I can’t see that God is already right here.