Stories Seldom Heard
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would like specially to welcome the parishioners of Holy Innocents Catholic Church, Pleasantville, New York and the members of the Dominican Laity Retreat, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Psalm 37 is identified as a Wisdom Psalm. It is also an acrostic psalm which means that the first line of every stanza begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. If this psalm were originally written in English, the first word in the first line would begin with “a.” The first word in the second line would begin with “b,” etc. Much of the beauty and intricacies of Hebrew poetry are lost in translation. However, having said this, Psalm 37 is a good example of another technique that is not lost in translation.
Hebrew poetry is known for its contrasting images and statements. In this psalm, the psalmist repeatedly juxtaposes the actions of the wicked person with those of a good person. In the first stanza the psalmist tells us not to worry about the wicked because “Quick as the grass they wither, fading like the green in the field.” But, God takes care of the good people. “Their heritage will last forever.” Psalm 37 offers us some practical wisdom. In an uncomplicated way it describes both the actions of the wicked and the ways of those who “Commit their lives to God” (verse 5). The faithful person directs her/his attention to values that last. Throughout Psalm 37 the virtuous, the friends of God “will have the land for their own” – a symbolic term that implies stability, a good life for one’s family and enough food to be “generous and openhanded” to others.
The psalm evokes confidence and a sense of calmness. But, at the same time it tends to make everything a little too simplistic and clear cut. It sounds as though the good person will have nothing to worry about because everything will go well for her/him. However, we have lived long enough to know that these lines are not to be taken literally. No matter how good we are, life happens. Also, we know that often the line between the wicked and the good person is blurred. All of us have found ourselves in need of forgiveness. Some days we are better at doing good works and being faithful to our commitments than other days.
Yet, at the same time on many levels the psalm rings true. The good person knows what is of real value. She/he knows that life, possessions and fame are passing and with that knowledge tries to put her/his decisions in the context of what is right and just according to God’s law. This Wisdom psalm takes the long view of life and experience. We hear this in verse 25 when the psalmist says, “Now I am old….I have never seen a virtuous person deserted.” This is the psalmist’s way of saying that even when everything doesn’t turn out the way we, good people, had hoped, we, in trust, hand over what is out of our control to God. We know that we don’t have all the answers and our good intentions often fall short.
Often the psalms refer to the law of God as one law, one commandment. “The mouths of the just murmur wisdom. Their tongues speak what is right; the law of God is in their hearts. Their steps do not faulter.” Jesus also speaks of the one commandment: the greatest commandment. He joins the love of God and love of neighbor together. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27).
The good person will “make their home in the land and live in peace.” What a blessing: to live in peace. Whether we lived over 2,000 years ago or in our modern society today, no one would underestimate the blessing of living during peaceful times in a secure home. For this, like our ancestors, we pray each day.
The challenge for virtuous people is to make the connection between love of God and love of neighbor secure. This requirement is a basic tenet of all major religions. Even though each religious tradition has its own sacred texts, many of their practices are the same: prayer, fasting, self-disciple, personal integrity and the consistent care and concern for their neighbor. We are especially aware of these religious practices and commitments of our Muslim sisters and brothers during this month of Ramadan. There have been many articles explaining the purpose of their strict religious practices. In light of the season of Ramadan, and the desire of all people of good well to live according to the Law of Love and care for neighbor, I offer the following basic principles of the twelve major religions.
“Becoming a Caring Community.”
“Desire not for anyone the things that ye would not desire for yourself.” Baba Ullah
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga, 5:18
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
“Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” Analects 15:23
Hinduism “Never do to others what would pain thyself.” Panchatantra III.104
Islam “Do unto all men as they should do unto you, and reject for others, what you reject for yourself.” Mishkat-el Masabih
Jainism “In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self.” Lord Mahavira, 6th century B.C.E.
Judaism “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law….” Talmud, Shabbat 314
Native American “Respect for all life is the foundation.” The Great Law of Peace
Sikhism “Treat others as thou wouldst be treated thyself.” Adi Granth
Taoism “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and neighbor’s loss as your loss.” T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien
Zoroastrianism “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.” Dadistan-I-Dinik, 94:5
The similarities and our responsibilities are sobering! I wonder what the world would look like if each of us tried to live our tradition more fully.
- Interfaith Voices of Peace and Justice, St. Louis, MO.
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. “Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection