Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The 4 Senses of Psalm 55

A short while ago there was a post here about the 4 senses of scripture, the tools that help us to pray the psalms mindfully. Psalm 55 appears today in Daytime Prayer. Here is a quick run-down on how one might apply each of the four senses to it. First, to save you the trouble of looking it up, here's the psalm:

O God, listen to my prayer, *
do not hide from my pleading,
attend to me and reply; *
with my cares, I cannot rest.
I tremble at the shouts of the foe, *
at the cries of the wicked;
for they bring down evil upon me. *
They assail me with fury.
My heart is stricken within me, *
death’s terror is on me,
trembling and fear fall upon me *
and horror overwhelms me.
O that I had wings like a dove *
to fly away and be at rest.
So I would escape far away *
and take refuge in the desert.
I would hasten to find a shelter *
from the raging wind,
from the destructive storm, O Lord, *
and from their plotting tongues.
For I can see nothing but violence *
and strife in the city.
Night and day they patrol *
high on the city walls.
It is full of wickedness and evil; *
it is full of sin.
Its streets are never free *
from tyranny and deceit.

If this had been done by an enemy *
I could bear his taunts.
If a rival had risen against me, *
I could hide from him.
But it is you, my own companion, *
my intimate friend!
How close was the friendship between us. 
We walked together in harmony *
in the house of God.
As for me, I will cry to God *
and the Lord will save me.
Evening, morning and at noon *
I will cry and lament.
He will deliver my soul in peace *
in the attack against me:
for those who fight me are many, *
but he hears my voice.
God will hear and will humble them, *
the eternal judge:
for they will not amend their ways. *
They have no fear of God.
The traitor has turned against his friends; *
he has broken his word.
His speech is softer than butter, *
but war is in his heart.
His words are smoother than oil, *
but they are naked swords.
Entrust your cares to the Lord *
and he will support you.
He will never allow *
the just man to stumble.
But you, O God, will bring them down *
to the pit of death.
Deceitful and bloodthirsty men *
shall not live half their days.

O Lord, I will trust in you.

Employing the Literal sense, we can meditate on King David's betrayal by his son, Absalom, and a trusted advisor who joined Absalom's rebellion.  Anyone who has ever been treated badly by a friend or loved one will jump at the Moral sense, recalling their own hurt, and once more--if they haven't already done so--giving this situation to God in an act of trust. Perhaps the most obvious, and best way to pray this psalm is in the Allegorical sense, as suggested by the gospel reference beneath the psalm title: Jesus was seized with fear and distress. You couldn't find a better meditation on Gethsemane,  since this one is divinely inspired! Imagining Our Lord praying this psalm during His agony will also lead you back to the Moral sense again.This time, not seeing yourself as the injured party, but as the betrayer, as you remind yourself, "He's not just talking about Judas. I, too, have betrayed His friendship."  Last, the Anagogical sense reminds us that God will support us through all trials, and although we are not promised  lasting happiness in this world, our Just and Merciful Judge will make everything right in the end.

Remember, you don't try to figure out every sense of every psalm every day. If you're not a monk you probably don't have time for that. On the other hand, as the months and  years of faithfully praying the psalter roll by, you will find the ability to interpret the psalms becomes, at times, a sixth sense. On a good day these various meanings  will come to you  naturally.