Desert Island Texts: No.49

Desert Island Texts: No.49

Desert Island Texts
Desert Island Texts

This week, Ben Chrome, an RSY-Netzer movement worker, selects Psalm 121

‘I raise my eyes to the hills, where will my help come from?’ begins Psalm 121, one of a series of pilgrims’ songs that seems to emphasise, above all, the virtues of God as our constant protector and our primary – if not our only – source of salvation.

Yet a closer look reveals that it touches on human nature as much as the character of the Almighty.

We learn that God will not let our feet slip and will guard us from evil, but of course this suggests our feet might slip and we might ourselves be susceptible to evil.

For anyone stranded on a desert island, one of the formative emotions is surely despair, and Psalm 121 offers an eloquent response to such despondency, while reminding us of the tenacity of particular stumbling blocks.

The most commonly-used Hebrew root in the psalm is SH-M-R, meaning to watch or to guard. As a madrich or leader in RSY-Netzer, the word that jumps at me from this root is shmira, the term we use on our events for night watch, ensuring participants are OK after bedtime. This duty of protection is central to our role, offering continual support to young people. ‘Know that the shomer of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps’.

In the era of the Temple, the sort of protection invoked by the psalm’s words is a particular kind of physical protection: both from the midday sun’s scorching heat by day and from enemies’ attacks by night. Our siddur also uses these words in, Psalms of Thanksgiving and Praise, in the Shabbat morning service alongside the more exuberant Psalm 150, a celebration of musical instruments that contributed to the unique ruach – spirit – of worship in David’s temple – gleeful festivity contrasted with mellow contemplation.

This summer, nearly 1,000 people were involved with RSY-Netzer events and explored the power of music to create transformative prayer experiences. As I stumble around the desert island, I treat the words and beautiful melody as one – just as supporting oneself both physically and spiritually is equally important.

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