16 November 2018

How to Secure Peace in an Anxious World: the 23rd Psalm


YWWH Ra'ah LORD, My Shepherd

Sometime last August, Andrea Castle Engle  handed me her outline for the Thursday Bible Class at SouthwestCentralHouston and asked me to reflect on How to Secure Peace in an Anxious World.
She had chosen a key verse: 
"I will both lay me down in peace and sleep: for Thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8 
Andrea focused on the 4th Chapter of Philippians for the semester's study, asserting that it is a toolbox for dealing with anxiety, for finding peace and rest.
She's right! 
Andrea invited me as a guest speaker to conclude the study, asking me to consider how the Pauline Epistle related to the Davidic 23rd Psalm.
 These two texts go hand-in-hand:
(1) Paul urging the Philippians and us to “be anxious in nothing” but to "rejoice in the Lord" and trust God’s provision to meet our needs and
(2) David’s song celebrating the ways that the LORD shepherds us.

This post includes not only my teaching on that day in November 2018 but links to a number of resources I use for Psalms and Hebrew study. It does not include any additional commentary on Philippians.
From early childhood, we learn the 23rd Psalm and are taught to recite it in times of stress, anxiety, fear, uncertainty.  My sister repeated it over and over and over on her Careflight to the Emergency Cardiac Unit in Waco after her heart attack.  She said she was never afraid because, no matter what might happen, she was safe because “the Lord is my shepherd.My own husband David often recited the 23rd as well as the 130th Psalm last year as we walked through the dark valley. Many others have similar stories.  
The 23rd Psalm is the standard scripture imprinted on funeral memorial folders. It is known as the American funeral psalm and read at almost all funerals. At my parents' memorials we recited it by memory because our family flock all know and find comfort and peace in these words which echo down the generations.
This song of an ancient shepherd, this prayer of Israel’s shepherd king is still our comfort even in the darkest valley. Saying these words enables us to “lay me down in peace and sleep” for the “LORD only makes me dwell in safety.”

Like many Psalms, the 23rd is very visual and grounded in the day-to-day life of Israel. Here is a link to a 4-minute video to help with our visualization of shepherds and sheep in Israel where you won't find sheep grazing in "belly-deep alfafah... What are those? Rock eating sheep?"

"Worry is dealing with tomorrow's problems on today's pasture."

In most English translations, the psalm begins with what sounds to our ears as a straightforward statement: "The LORD is my shepherd." 
In Hebrew, it begins with a Name of God: 
YWWH Ra'ah LORD! My Shepherd! 
The word that is translated "LORD" is an appeal to the great "I AM" who is the One who keeps covenant and rescues His people.  It is the personal name of God, almost too holy to be spoken aloud. The addition of "Ra'ah" makes it personal to the psalmist; it is an appeal to the One who is "My Shepherd." Yes, He is the shepherd of the flock but He is unequivocally the shepherd of each individual sheep. 
When a sheep falls off a cliff, or wanders from the path and away from the flock and green pastures, or is threatened by a predator, or gets a hoof trapped in the rocks and is alone and in danger, the sheep bleats,  "BAA! BAA! BAA! "My Shepherd! Come! Help me! I'm in a dark valley; you are my shepherd. I know your name; I hear your voice.  I am completely dependent on you to save me." The 23rd Psalm begins with a call to remember that relationship between me and my shepherd. For God to remember; for me to remember.

The Psalms are poetry and poetry is by far the most difficult genre to move from one language to another. Poetry is not literal; it is not word-for-word. Poetry is more like music than it is like narrative. Much of the meaning of poetry happens between the lines, by the sounds of the words, by repetitions, by alliterations, by re-definitions and nuance, and by the structure of the verse. 
Noted translator and author of The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, and Practice (1993) Willis Barnstone said:

 "A translation is an x-ray, not a xerox."

Hebrew poetics are not always visible in our translations. 

Here is link to a gathering of many the translations of the 23rd Psalm into English:

I have recast an English translation of Psalm 23 as a spoken word duet.
I chose to use a less familiar  version (NEB 1966) and have toyed with it a bit, hoping to make it more reflective of the assumptions and emphasis which are obvious in the Hebrew but don’t really translate into English. 
In particular the phrase "for His name's sake" is the central idea of the Psalm. Hebrew poetics make it the unseen modifier of every verse. Every action in the Psalm is "for His name's sake" and flows from the very being of God because of the relationship of the Psalmist to his God, because of the relation of the shepherd to His sheep. I hope you will hear these very familiar verses with fresh ears and perhaps with new understanding.

I am most grateful to Cynthia Byrd Clemmons, my partner in spoken word. 
[I have fine-tuned it a bit since we read it.] 

 YHWH Ra’ah – LORD my Shepherd!
For his name’s sake, I shall want nothing.
For his name’s sake he makes me lie down in green pastures,
and leads me beside the waters of peace.
For his name’s sake, He renews life within me.  

He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake,
even though I walk through a valley dark as death.
Even though I walk through a valley dark as death,
He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake,

For your name’s sake, I fear no evil,
for thou, YHWH Ra’ah, art with me,
thy staff and thy crook are my comfort.

For your name’s sake,
Thou, YHWH Ra’ah, spread a table for me in the sight of my enemies;
thou, YHWH Ra’ah, have richly bathed my head with oil,
and my cup runs over.

For his name’s sake, Goodness and love unfailing,
these will follow me all the days of my life, and
because He is my shepherd,
I shall dwell in the house of YHWH my whole life long.

One the tools I use to understand the poetics of Hebrew is to listen to the Psalms as they are sung in the Hebrew. Here is link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn2Tw1IEAF0

 Now for a close reading of the Psalm.

The structure of the Psalm is:
ABCDA'B'C' which indicates a linear correspondence between verses in the first and in the second half of the Psalm. It would also indicate that verse 4 is the main point and the turning point of the Psalm. "Even though" is the pivot  which marks the psalmist's act of remembering who God is and who he is. It is an act of profound rebellion in deviance of current circumstance which moves the sheep nearer and back  into the presence of his shepherd. This movement is reflected in the psalm which moves
  1. from exterior pastures to interior banquet table in the house
  2. from needs of today to all the days and forever
  3. from the Shepherd leading to Goodness and mercy following
  4. from "He" to "Thou" 
 According to the paradigm of my favorite Christian scholar of Hebrew Scriptures, Walter Brueggemann, ABC represent Orientation - I understand my relationship to the Shepherd and have everything I need. D is the event of Disorientation - the dark valley that challenges my understanding of that relationship, the lack that makes me question the Shepherd's provision and maybe his existence, that moment of dissonance  marked by  doubt, despair, and death which forces me to change direction. A'B'C' represent Reorientation - "the faithful self speaks to the doubting soul" and I again trust the Shepherd to provide abundantly, fears lose their power, and my hope is renewed. 
 [Brueggemann's impeccable scholarship and prophetic voice are unsurpassed.
I highly recommend any book by Brueggemann but for the purposes of this blog I'll go with 

I am currently reading: The Gospel of Hope.

I've been privileged to "sit at his feet" several times. Here is a link to the lecture I listened to this morning:
Here is a gathering of Brueggemann quotations:



Psalm 23 NEB 1966 with notes
A
 1 The LORD is my shepherd;
YWWH -Ra'ah Personal name of God and relationship to psalmist.
The name that is the source of "for His name's sake" and the impetus of all God's action and all my response.
I shall want nothing
 Because the LORD is my Shepherd I need nothing more. All the actions are God’s: makes to lie, leads, renews, guides. I respond to God’s actions.
 B
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
and leads me beside the waters of peace;
"lie down" is יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי  carries meanings of rest and to spread out in a safe resting place. It shares a common root with "dwell" which will be echoed in verse 6 
Recall that "green pastures" is a place where the needs of today are met.
It is essentially the prayer Jesus taught: "Give us today our daily bread."
 C
 3 he renews life within me,
All life comes from the breath of God who provides the needs of our lives in food, water, peace, rest. I think "he restores my soul" is the better translation. The Hebrew word translated "life" or "soul" is "nephesh" נַפְשִׁ֥ which also means a living being, a self, a person having desire, passion, appetite, emotion
 D
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake,
Note: "paths' is plural like the grazing paths cross-crossing the Judean hillsides.  While each sheep chooses and follows its own narrow path, the flock moves in the same direction as the shepherd. I think we are often quite arrogant sheep when we criticize another's path.
for his name’s sake,
recalls the opening shout of the psalmist: YWHW Ra'ah!
The poem's structure means that his phrase is the unspoken modifier of every verse. Some English translation move this phrase to the front but in Hebrew it  falls between "paths" and "even though" and it must be there to maintain the poetical structure.
4 even though I walk through a valley dark as death.
The turning point, the pivot of the Psalm. The structure would bear a translation as a mirrored phrase: "He guides me in right paths for his name's sake even though I walk through a valley dark as death. Even though I walk through a valley dark as death, He guides me right paths for His name's sake."
A’
I fear no evil, for thou art with me,
thy staff and thy crook are my comfort.
The pivot from "He" to "Thou" is a turn toward the Shepherd and brings Him near. In v. 1, I want nothing; in verse 4b, I fear nothing. The Shepherd's tools for rescue and defense comfort the sheep. "Thou" also indicates the nearness of the Shepherd and the fact that the sheep knows the shepherd's voice and names him "My Shepherd."
B’
5 Thou spreadest a table for me in the sight of my enemies; thou hast richly bathed my head with oil,  and my cup runs over.
Images echo those of v. 2 but have multiplied to abundant hospitality (a banquet feast and an anointed head) and so much wine that cups overflow.
How safe must one feel to sit at a table with enemies?
We might also see in the presence of "bread, oil, and wine" the liturgical presence of the Holy One of Israel. Christians might extend these images to the Eucharist, the Communion Table.
 C’
Goodness and love unfailing,
these will follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
A rabbi once told me that the attributes of God were names of God and proof of His Presence. 
He and I were both waiting for our cars to come from the valet parking at M.D. Anderson Hospital. It was the first night of Chanukah and, after answering my question about the pronunciation of a Hebrew phrase-- "May those in need of healing find refu'ah sh'leima"--the rabbi asked if I would like to hear his Shabbat teaching. Of course, I counted it an honor and a blessing. He reviewed the history of Chanukah and then said that always the greater miracle, greater even than the oil in the Temple lamps, is Shalom because it is one of the names of God.
"Goodness and love unfailing" the attributes of My Shepherd and a sure sign of his presence. 
"Love unfailing" in Hebrew is checed וָחֶ֣סֶד  "the steafast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end." The word is used 130 times in the Psalms. Interestingly it derives from a primitive root which means to bow one's head in courtesy to an equal, to be kind and merciful. Thus, God's checed originates in Creation: "Let us make man in our own image." Any instance of God's checed is an invitation to relationship, to conversation, to friendship with God as Abraham, Moses, and David experienced. It is Immanuel--God with Us!
I have previously taught and blogged on "the house of YHWH" in the Psalms. Here is a link to that blog: 

I was once privileged to sit at the feet of Rabbi Harold S. Kushner as he presented Psalm 23 and post my notes here so I can find them later.
most recognizable psalm,  America's funeral psalm
Rabbi Kushner, calls it a 3-act play depicting one man's story:
            first, peace & serenity; then darkness and grief; finally new relationship with God
            God, the source of strength at a time when all seemed lost.
For Kushner, "the 23rd offers lessons on
            gratitude ("my cup runneth over"),
            direction "he guides me in straight paths, for his name's sake),
            and inner peace (he makes me lie down in green pastures").
"God's promise is never that life would be fair; God's promise is that whenever we have to confront the unfairness, He will be with us."
"The most  important lesson is that in times of trouble God does not explain, God comforts."
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner











12 January 2018

"goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to they rest."

David Meggs Pipes
27 November 1948 - 3 January 2018
David Meggs Pipes was the eldest child of Charles David Pipes and Betty Meggs Pipes. He was born November 27, 1948, in Fort Worth, Texas. The family would grow to include two sisters Mary Nel, Melinda Beth, and a brother, Bryan Charles.  Charles Pipes was recalled to active duty for the Korean War and the family moved frequently with U.S. Air Force Duty assignments. David said that home was wherever his parents were and the church was their extended family in San Antonio, New Mexico, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, California, the Philippines, and Abilene.

David started school in Roswell, New Mexico where he chased lizards and became an avid reader. Young David dreamt much of sailing ships and heroic naval battles with the historical Admiral Horatio Nelson and the fictional Captain Horatio Hornblower. While in Puerto Rico the family enjoyed a cruise culminating in a passage through the Panama Canal and, to his dismay, David suffered sea sickness. Always able to make the best of a bad situation, he spent his days in the library where an older gentleman taught him to play chess. Later in high school, the chess club became a fun diversion and David formed life-long friendships with his fellow club members. Many years later, he won the competitions to represent Rice University at the NCAA chess tournament.

Upon leaving Puerto Rico, the family was stationed back in California where David was baptized into Christ Jesus and learned leadership skills for public speaking from a dedicated Christian mentor whom David emulated as he mentored young men in his church. David graduated from Ramona High School in Riverside in 1966, as a National Merit Scholar. Immediately afterward the family was stationed in the Philippines and Charles was flying into Viet Nam.


In September 1966, David arrived in Houston to attend Rice University. He started as a "Hanszen gentleman" and was among the upperclassman who volunteered to move to the new college where he was a member of Lovett's constitutional committee. During these college years David joined the Rice Players as a stage hand and had roles in Hamlet and School for Scandal. He often assisted Andrea Castles (later Engle) in Brown College theater productions including The Second Shepherd's Pageant. He earned pocket money as a Physics grader and tutored Rice Basketball players. A gifted teacher, David  tutored a host of friends at Rice and many young people through the decades. David played a lot of bridge both on campus and duplicate on Friday nights with his regular bridge partner, Keith McGregor.  While in graduate school, he was in Army R.O.T.C. serving as Executive Officer.

David began attending the Central Church of Christ in 1966 and was an active member of their college group.  Except for the three years he spent in the U.S. Army, David lived in Houston and worshiped with this church for 50 years, half of the 100 years we will celebrate this coming weekend.

 In September 1967, David met K Cummings at Central’s college welcome party in the home of Terry and Beverly Koonce. It took him a couple of weeks to persuade K to go to a football game with him but almost from that moment they were a couple. They ate both lunch and dinner together most days and attended various campus events together. When David’s parents came to visit at Lovett College, they were told “he spends all of his time over at Brown with K Cummings.” David and K fell in love working with the children at Central's Drew Street Mission, at college devotionals in the home of R.L. and Jean Sanders, and at the Sunday night spaghetti dinners served to college students in Central’s fellowship hall which is now The Black Lab restaurant. Eating at the site of so many happy memories remained a special treat.

David earned three degrees from Rice University: Bachelor of Arts in 1970, Master of Chemical Engineering in 1971, and Master Science (Environmental Science and Engineering) in 1974. His was one of the first environmental degrees issued. David and K continued to be actively involved at Rice and are members of The Owl Club and Friends of Fondren.

David and K were married on September 4, 1971. When David completed his graduate work, he served his country in the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency. During that time, he developed many standards for water treatment, including the famous “Pipes sniff test” as the first indicator of a well-run plant. He would sometimes introduce himself, “Pipes the name; sewers the game.”  While stationed in Maryland, David and K worshiped and taught children and David chaired the benevolence committee at Aberdeen Church of Christ.  Not long ago, the elders of that church thanked him for his influence in Men’s Business Meetings, creating an atmosphere of peace and forgiveness. David’s stories of the Central Church in Houston had been “instrumental in teaching what a good eldership might be. Remarkable wisdom in a young man.”

Having completed his military service, David and K returned to Houston in 1976 to enjoy the benefits of being close to Rice and to take up again the work of teaching a generation and a half of children of Southwest Central Church, where he served as a Deacon and then an Elder.

As a graduate student, David had worked on a consulting project for S& B Engineers and Constructors. Upon learning that David was job interviewing in Houston, Dr. Bill Brookshire offered him a position and in 1976 David began his career with S&B Engineers and Constructors where he would become a Principal Process Engineer in a department that is ably led by his brother and best friend, Bryan. David loved engineering and mentored many young engineers. He was honored to be awarded the company's S.A.B.E.R.--Safety, Attitude, Best Practices, Excellence, Reliability. 

During a recent interview with a doctor about his goals for treatment, David listed three things: “be at home with K, worship with my church, and get back to work at S&B so I can be with my friends.”
David, age 69, died Wednesday, January 3, 2018, while a patient at M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, where he was cared for with great kindness by the nursing staff.

David is survived by his wife of 46 years, K Cummings Pipes, who held his hand through this life’s journey, by his dear mother, Betty, by his brother Bryan and his wife Dee, by his sisters, Beth Cook and Mary Nel McLane and her husband Charles, by nieces, nephews, God children, extended family, and a host of friends.

Honorary pallbearers:  his nephews, Josh Gregory and his son Tilson, Kendall Cummings II, Bryan McLane, James McLane, Carl Sinkule, Damon Easter, Joseph Niles, and David’s namesake, David Michelletti.

 Do not “mourn as others do who have no hope.”  
1 Thessalonians 4:13—Weymouth New Testament

A memorial service was officiated by Steve Sargent, 8 January 2018, at Southwest Central Church of Christ, 4011 W. Bellfort, Houston, TX.

{The sounds of weeping and wailing are not from me or his family. Our church is culturally diverse and David, as a shepherd of the flock, was much loved and is deeply mourned my his extended church family.}

At his memorial service, his brother-in-law, Jack Gregory,  offered these words:

"On behalf of the Pipes family, “Thank you!”  Thank you for the overwhelming support offered to K through the past difficult months.  “Thank you” for your attendance here at David’s memorial service today.  And “Thank you” for helping us honor God as we honor David.
Just a couple of days ago I read a short blog about prayer that has impacted my thinking and, I hope, will impact my prayers in the future.  It’s amazing how one simple word can radically change my prayer life.
For those of us that live life on this side of heaven, our prayers are so often centered on “us” – on the needs and wants that we face in our daily lives and not so often on the eternal.  Without a doubt, many of you have joined me in praying for David’s healing through this “battle” that he has been fighting for the past year especially.  We have all prayed in earnest and with a great deal of hope and faith that David would be healed physically – that he and his situation would become “better” . . .
And here is that one little word . . . that one little change in my prayer: 
Instead of praying “Lord, make this BETTER” maybe I need to pray . . .
“Lord, make this COUNT!”
God, David is dying.  Make the leukemia go away if possible.  BUT don’t just make it better, make it COUNT!  Make this time be about YOU and YOUR kingdom.
That is exactly what David knew was important – exactly what he understood when he read (or when he asked K to read to him) Psalm 130.

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; 
2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. 
5 I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, yes, more than watchmen wait for the morning. 

On New Year’s Eve, K heard David, in his sleep, say “I’m dying.  No unanswered prayers!” 
He wanted us to know that our prayers for healing WERE NOT unanswered prayer just because he died.  Just the opposite is true . . .
He knew that, IT COUNTED!  He had full faith that “because of his life, he knew his death would COUNT for God’s kingdom here on earth”.  He knew it would count for his precious church family here in this building.  He trusted that lives . . . OUR lives would be eternally affected and affirmed in the promise of eternity with God.
I thank God for hearing our prayers and answering each of them fully.

I love the phrase “In the Fullness of Time”. . .
For David, it IS BETTER!  And for each of us . . . Now – in the fullness of time – IT COUNTS!
Prayer . . .