Psalm 1 – Trees by Flowing Waters
Trees are beautiful sights to see. There are so many varieties and shapes, with branches that go in varying directions, covered with leaves and fruit, making a strong foundation from which to hang swings, bird feeders, hold tree houses, or hang ornaments for Christmas. They are wonderful pieces of God’s creation. So many of the Psalms include images from nature and so it is appropriate to begin the book of Psalms with this image by the writer of Psalm 1
Psalm 1 is an introduction to the whole Book of Psalms. It outlines the lot of the good and the wicked.
Those who meditate on the Lord’s law are like trees by a spring of water, Psalm 1 tells us. They are truly happy. “Happy the one who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night. He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whos leaves never fade.” (1-3)
In contrast, the wicked are like chaff which the wind drives away (4). “For the Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.” (6)
A Tree Planted by Running Water
What does it mean to be a tree by a spring of water? It means to have deep roots, easy access to life sustaining water. Such trees are able to drink deep. They are not easily uprooted, able to stand firm, yet bend in the wind. They produce fruit in season yet withhold fruit/hunker down through winter and through droughts.
There is wisdom in this. JR Tolkien recognized this in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Ents are wonderful characters, trees who speak and walk, but slowly. They do not move to action quickly, yet once mobilized, what a sight. In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the trees whisper to each other. They were among the wisest of God’s creation.
Imagine Thoreau, sitting beside Walden Pond, perhaps under a tree, reflecting on the beauty of nature around him, reflecting deeply on life and being transformed. Or Thomas Merton reflecting on the awesomeness of our God in nature, as found in the Book, When the Trees Say Nothing.
Chaff which the Wind Drives Away
Unlike chaff which has no roots. It is blown about by the wind, or the latest fad. We certainly see a lot of this in our society, people who are not just blown about by the latest fads, but the latest emotion as well. They don’t stop to really think about life, but just react to life. Easily disturbed, they have no sense of abiding peace. They might experience momentary happiness, but that too is gone in an instant.
Without substance, they are shallow, unhappy, and give up easily. For example, those who follow the stock market have a rocky road as stocks can go up and down in a roller coaster fashion. People who place their hope in stocks have reason to feel despair. They feel richer when stocks go up, poor when they go down. It’s all craziness because, as my dad used to put it: it’s just numbers on paper.
How do We Become like these Trees?
So how do we become like these trees? Psalm 1 tells us through meditating on Torah, God’s law. Sacred Scripture puts it all in perspective. It reminds us of the sins of our ancestors, and yet they were loved and forgiven. It reminds us of God’s love for the Hebrew people, all people. And it reminds us of God’s justice and our need to be just as well, to care for the widows and orphans, the poor among us.
Scripture reminds us of our faith history, the great people of our faith such as the story of Joseph who is sold into slavery and eventually saves his people during a time of famine. Or Moses, the stutterer who leads his people to the Promised Land. Or Mary, a young girl who says yes to God’s request of her.
What is this Law?
What is this law that Psalm 1 calls us to meditate on? Is it just a listing of rules, like those found Leviticus? Laws on food, leprosy, the land and inheritance. The long legal list goes on and on, chapter after chapter. Is that what we are called to meditate on? Yes and no. All of Scripture is good to study, including these laws but Torah/Law is greater than that, more than just an enumeration of do’s and don’ts. To meditate on Torah is to know the story of God’s people and be able to apply it to life today.
The Law/Torah, God’s word, is living, eternal, and true. Happy are those who spend their time reflecting on God’s word. Those who study the Lord’s law have inner resources that others don’t have. They will not be easily dismayed or destroyed. Like a tree planted by a flowing stream, they are strong; they can bend when necessary and yet remain steadfast.
We Have What We Need
To be by a stream of water means we have what we need to sustain us. It’s there, deep within us. We don’t have to go to a well and carry it back to our homes; we just need to go deeper, not living life on the surface.
Teresa of Avila, when speaking of the prayer life, said at first it can seem like going to a well and raising the bucket. It is hard work in order to get some refreshment. But as one grows in their prayer life, they learn how to dig irrigation ditches whereby the water can flow more freely to the person. The one who is learned in prayer, though, discovers a stream within, living waters that flow freely so you no longer have to work so hard at it.
This is to be a tree by a stream, tapping into those living waters within us, waters of prayer where we meet our Lord and Savior.
The Necessity of Prayer
Prayer needs to be daily, reflecting on God, reflecting on Scripture, not looking for “great revelations” quick fixes or transformation. That’s the way of chaff, the way of society, but not the way of trees. Scripture needs to be read over and over, memorized so that it becomes part of our living and breathing. Over time it becomes part of our very nature, so that it is easy to recall the passages and easy to pray to God, as easy as breathing, as easy as it is for the tree by a stream to receive the water it needs.
Monks that pray the hours of the day pray all 150 psalms over the course of each week. They become intimately aware of each psalm through praying them over and over. They are immersed in them and in their spirituality; the Psalms form them and transform them. They don’t show up each day expecting to be entertained or see miracles, they show up because it is who they are. Their whole life becomes a prayer, wrapped in God’s love, as they memorize the Psalms from their daily repetition.
Weekly Study of the Psalms
This week I begin again my weekly study of the Psalms. I begin it with this beautiful Psalm about meditating on God’s law – a very appropriate beginning. It is good to meditate on God’s word, good to reflect on the Psalms. They are the early prayers of God’s people. In them you will find all of the wide range of human emotions expressed in poetry. You will find the heart of Christian Scripture, leading us always to our God and to Jesus.
God’s wisdom is deep. Most of us just barely touch the surface of that wisdom. It is a venture worthy of a lifetime to plumb the depths of these riches. We need to dig deep, put down strong roots where we are able to drink from living waters, God’s word.
And so, I begin this journey into the prayers of God’s people, the Psalms. May we become like trees by flowing streams, ever attentive to God’s word in our life and our world. May God’s words sustain us, encourage us, strengthen us, enliven us, wherever we may go, wherever God’s word may lead.
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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