Dog-walk Reflections on Psalm 40

Every weekday morning this month, I meditate on a psalm online, with a bunch of seminarians, recovering folks, and friends from around the country. Usually this entails us reading a psalm, then silently meditating on a couple of lines that resonate with us. After five minutes of silent breathing together, we share our thoughts and reactions. Then, we all head into our days.

Usually for me that means I’m launching into work mode. But since I’ve been feeling out of shape lately, I decided today that I would start doing a long walk with my old dog, Rosemary. (She typically gets plenty of exercise running around with the neighbor’s puppies.)

So, as we were walking, I was thinking about Psalm 40. This morning, the two sections that seemed to generate the most conversation was verse 3 and 6-8:

“3He/She put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

6Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

7Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.

8I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

Rose has no use for conversations about psalms, and spent her time smelling the stray dill that was going to seed on the path and peeing on every other trash can.

I thought about “but you have given me an open ear.” Essentially, the speaker of the psalm is saying that God/Higher Power/Spirit/Celestial Wonder Dog doesn’t require sacrifice and offerings, but instead, offers an open ear.

This must have seemed radical in some ways — a God that does not require appeasement but instead offers to listen.

You know that feeling when someone is really listening to you? Like, fully attentive, no agenda, not trying to fix, just-being-there-with-you listening to you? That kind of thing makes me feel held and able to be more expansive and loving in my life. It frees me from the feeling that I don’t have anything interesting to say, or that crappy feeling you get when you’re trying to get someone’s attention and they won’t listen. That kind of thing makes me feel small, and less-than.

But here’s a God, who’s like: tell me more.

Sometimes when I’m praying, I feel like a little kid saying: “And then I drew something with a green crayon, and then I ran really fast, and here’s my macaroni sculpture, and and and…”

And my God says: tell me more.

It’s the biggest gift, I think.

Then the psalm than asserts that God asks not for sacrifices and offerings but instead for our attention and willingness to follow the words that are written on our hearts.

Law here is a tricky word — I read it not like the modern sense of law, as in a rule not to be broken under pain of punishment, but instead something that calls us to be true to our innermost loves and longings, that calls us to attention and compassion, that calls us to be in relationship with God.

Rose and I continued to walk. The squirrels, the casual tight-rope runners of telephone wires, commuted above us. An ant-covered ice cream cup sat on the curb in front of the Christian Science Church. A man jogged past, and two young boys walked by debating the San Francisco/Seattle ball game.

In other places, friends and strangers were preparing for work, or school. In other places, people were going to war or trying to stay safe. All of these things are happening everywhere. A billion stories.

Tell me more.

Listen.

God has put a new song in my mouth.Thank you.

(If you would like to join me and the rest of our Into the Wilderness gang for meditation, get the full story here.)

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