Thursday, October 22, 2009
Pondering Psalm 1 on an Ordinary Day
The Psalm for today, Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week of Ordinary Time, is the short and beautiful Psalm 1.
Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the entire psalter. It is a Psalm of the "wisdom" genre--that means, it has literary ties to the wisdom literature. By introducing the psalter with a wisdom psalm, the sacred author means to suggest that the psalter is, among other things, a book of wisdom. Wisdom was a practical rather than theoretical enterprise for the ancient Israelites. Wisdom was knowing how to live rather than knowing various abstractions. However, the psalter is by and large not didactic--it's not full of instructions, like most wisdom literature. Instead it consists of prayers and songs of praise. How do these compositions teach "wisdom"?
Psalm 1 compares the righteous man to a tree planted by streams of water, which stays green and regularly yields its fruit. In the Near East, water is scarce. Many locations cannot count on rain for moisture. I tree with deep roots to a source of water, that could be counted on to produce fruit, was and is a precious thing.
The point of the analogy is fidelity. The wise, righteous man, in the view of the psalmist, is one who is consistent and faithful, one who can be counted on. It is not necessarily the person with a "flashy" spirituality, who has dramatic spiritual experiences and draws the attention of others. These things are good in themselves, but they can be counterfeit and do not necessarily indicate maturity.
On a rather dull day in the liturgical calendar, during the doldrums of the academic semester, it is good to be reminded that the man blessed in God's eyes is the faithful one, who consistently bears fruit no matter what the "weather" is.