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Using the Psalms as Prayers

By L. L. Larkins, author of the Psalm Hymns series

I’m one of those pray-without-thinking-too-much-about-it sort of people.

I pray about parking spaces.  I walk around the lake near our home and just talk to God about the birds and turtles, the sunrise and sunset, about family struggles and many, many things. Often, the welling up of joy and surprises in nature and certain wonders of those who pass by me or walk near me make me cry in praises and gratitude.

I thank God for this and that.  I wrestle with God in tears about people and issues, and my wants and needs. Sometimes beautiful poetry will come to me in that space. I wonder if walking with the Lord is simply talking to Him about everything and listening closely enough to follow as He talks back to us.

It’s the week of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

When I was struggling in a really dark spot in my life, the Psalms became deep wells of teaching for me. Once, when I was apologizing to the Lord for dragging Him through the mud and cow patties with me, sorry for bringing down His holy name to such a low level, I saw an image of him sitting next to me in a mud puddle, cross-legged, and grinning at me with a missing tooth. Half naked, and smeared with something disgusting, he said so very gently, “I’ve been dragged through much worse. You think I’m afraid of sitting with you in this mess? There’s nothing you can do to me that hasn’t been done before.”

In meditation and prayer in the Psalms, I began to understand what people had prayed for years ago when they were betrayed or when they had experienced insufferable losses, or when they suffered in post-trauma over their sins or others sins against them. That was when I began setting the five books of biblical Psalms to music that I could sing and remember.

Many of the Psalm Hymns are praises as we know and understand them to be, with the power to lift our minds out of our circumstances and place them on the Lord.  But, in addition to these types of Psalms, there are those that offer experiences of grief, pleas to God as to a doctor or a priest or a king, someone who has the power and credentials to save us.

Psalms also include some moments of pedantic teaching to engage our minds even more than our emotions. Each of these Psalms also offers some striking spiritual landmarks for life. A way to get up and go forward in trust and faith.

Psalm 78 starts out this way, sung to the tune: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (Bound for the Promised Land)

My people, hear my words of teaching;

Listen to my words.

I begin with a parable of old

And will speak to the hidden yore, —

These are things our people have heard and known,

They are things ancestors told.

Should we try to hide them from our own

Descendants, who need to know?

Psalms can be specified as prayers to God.

But, because praying is also a communal form of conversation, the Psalms are definitely bright bits of meditation and self-talk. They were given to God’s people for the purpose of spiritual reasoning with one’s self, self-counsel. So, in that way, it is a means of God praying back to our hearts and minds and will. The Psalms are truly a two-way conversation with the Lord.

The words of this Psalm 78 informs me that there are hidden treasures and parables in the Psalms and in the stories of our spiritual ancestors that we need to know and we need to pass along to our littles and our teens asking those deep questions.

Moses wrote Psalm 91, which for all the seriousness of Moses’ reflection, I have aligned with the Doxology.  Most of the Psalms were written by King David, or by someone, a scribe in his court maybe, so it was interesting to me to get a King’s take on God’s law when people where saying law makes no difference to a walk of faith. I really struggled, you know, with what I believed about law and whether following the ten commandments was legalism. Through the Psalm Hymns, an understanding about God’s heart for how the commandments offer healthy limits, and a healthy community was forged.

The law wasn’t a mode to salvation, but it was a mode to loving one’s neighbor, a mode to justice and mercy and self-restraint, a mode to honoring our Maker.

A verse of Psalm 119 about the value of the law sung to the tune: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine

O, that I sought You in Your commands!

Shame would release its hold of my hand.

I would have praised Your judgments in all;

I would have seen You, righteous for all.

You rule uprightly; this I discern!

Now I observe Your statutes and learn;

Oh, do not leave me, LORD, take my hand!

Do not forsake me!  LORD, help me stand.

There are Psalms that recount how the waters were separated from parts of the earth and put into boundaries, like in Psalm 24, or Psalm 104. Here is a verse of Psalm 24 sung to the hymn, At Calvary (It starts out, “Years I spent in vanity and pride. . .” did you ever sing that one in church?)

All the fullness of the earth begun,

Land and spaciousness for everyone,

All of it including what may come:

It is the Lord’s!

For He founded it upon the seas, drawing limits,

Drawing floods and springs.

Who shall come to Him, ascend His hill?

It is the Lord’s!

A verse of Psalm 104 talks about this, too, sung to the great hymn by Isaac Watts, I Sing The Mighty Power of God. 

You covered earth with waters deep

As with a garment drenched;

Above the mountain heights they stayed.

Rebuked, the seas retrench;

As voices of Your thunder played,

They hastened to their place!

Now, far away they rest in pools

And valleys where they stay.

These Psalms are wonderful teaching tools for a Bible study or a music ensemble because when the words of scripture are combined with music, our spirits soar to the heights in mysterious ways, and with the soaring of a spirit comes questions and mysteries to talk about and pray about.

One music group used the Caroling Through the Psalms book during Advent season. 

They spent the summer arranging and building parts and solos, and in the season before Christmas, they sang on the mall, at retirement homes, and in churches in their community. It was a life-changing experience to anchor their modern holiday experiences in the past prayers and testimonies of others.

God as my judge, and our judge — so often prayed to in this capacity in the Psalms, reminds me to expect justice and mercy from Him, but there is more! Did you know there is a Psalm written specifically to judges who do not judge righteously? Here is the first verse of Psalm 82 sung to The Battle Hymn of the Republic (and it only gets better).

Standing in the great assembly,

God presides and takes His place;

He is rendering His judgment

To the gods of earth’s dismay.

His decree begins by reasoning:

“How long have you displaced

The weak and fatherless?”

God presides to judge the jurists;

Earth is trembling in her footsteps;

God inherits all the nations.

Our God is over all!

To bolster confidence in depression, Psalm 27 centers me every time I sing it and amazingly, I can sing it to several tunes! Immortal, Invisible works brilliantly. Any version of Away in a Manger works wonderfully, and I will reserve the best tune in a minor key as listed in Caroling Through the Psalms.

Caroling Through the Psalms

 

The Lord is my Light and my constant Estate!
Then whom shall I fear when His Stronghold is safe?
Though evil advances against me for ill
To slander, devour me all will be well.

My rivals and enemies stumble and fall.
Though armies besiege me, I fear none at all;
Though warriors may shake down a valiant defense,
Then yes, God alone is my sheer confidence.

This one thing I seek and I ask from the Lord,
To hold my insurance for life at the Source
To gaze on His beauty to seek His embrace
For here in my trouble He will keep me safe.

Another Psalm to reach into the core of my heart and pull out the dark secrets of worry and doubt is Psalm 139. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I praise God every time I sing Psalm 139, and I can sing it now to the tune Open My Eyes that I May See this way.

What if I ride the wings of dawn?
What if I move to seas beyond?
Yet, even there your power abides—
and there your hand will be my guide.
What if I isolate in gloom?
begging the night to be my womb—
Yet, even there Your Presence shines!

Where shall I hide?

You made the inward parts of me—
You know my body’s mysteries.
Knitted my limbs in my mother’s womb—
Wonders performed, there’s none like You!
Your workmanship is marvelous—
Deep in my soul, I know it is!
No-one knows how You wove my frame—

Physics of God!

I can also sing this Psalm to the rollicking favorite of old town Christians, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, which Psalm 139 is also arranged for in Book Five of the Psalm Hymns.

When you worry about the power and legacy of evil people who seem to cheat death, Psalm 49 explains the path of these financial estates and those who follow the words of evil counsel, there is a Psalm for that. Sing it to the tune, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.

Hear this, all nations of the world;
You great and small in heart,
You rich and poor together hear
My wisdom on the harp!
My meditation shall be clear as understanding prose:
The proverb and the riddle sing
As I explain them both:

Why should I fear when danger comes

Confounded enemies,
The ones who put their trust in wealth

And boast iniquities?
For no one’s assets can redeem

The price of human life;

Each costly soul is ransomed by

Our God who sets its price.

 

What could we pay that God would trade

To let us out-live time?

Immortal like, enjoying life

In rich estates sublime?
For one can see that wise ones die,
And fools, they all pass away.
They leave their wealth to other hands.
Their homes become their graves.

Estates are named to flatter pride

Of pompous heirs below

But generations pass on by
Those silent wealthy bones.

Despite one’s wealth, the flesh won’t last;
For humans die like herds;

There goes the path of the arrogant,
And those who follow their words.

In Book Five, you will find the Pilgrim Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent for tours to the Holy Land. But in each and every book, you will find Psalms that are simple prayers and pleas to the Lord for help and rescue.  Like Psalm 88.  It can be sung to Lord, Plant My Feet On Higher Ground (I’m Pressing on the Upward Way.)

You are my Lord, the God Who saves;
You rescue when I cry in faith.
Oh, hear another prayer to You;
Oh, turn toward my anguished soul.

I’m overwhelmed with troubles, Lord;
See how my breath in whispers pours.
They’ve counted me among the dead;
And lacking strength, my friends have fled.

One of my favorite praise Psalms in Psalm 147, sung to the tune, Wonderful Love of Jesus! (When We All Get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!). If you have difficulties remembering these old hymn tunes, you can look them up on YouTube or in Hymnary.org. Here is a link for this song. https://hymnary.org/text/sing_the_wondrous_love_of_jesus_sing_his

Praise the LORD! O Praise the LORD from heaven!

Praise Him from the bluing atmosphere!

All His angels—hosts of armies—praise him!

Praise Him far and near!

Praise the LORD—sun and moon and all you

Twinkling starry crowns!

Praise the LORD! Every vapor—

Every particle, resound!

 

Let His creatures everywhere give praise—

For their bodies and their very lives.

His command is their existence—placing

Each where it survives!

His decrees are forever; they will never

Overturn or end.

Praise the LORD from the earth, and

From the ocean depths ascend!

Finally, I will leave you with one of our most beloved songs of victory and praise, Psalm 150. 

It is sung to the old hymn, Love Lifted Me (I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore).

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

Celebrate God in might!

Praise Him for celestial power—

Praise Him for heaven’s gates!

In His sanctuary—praise—sounding the trumpet loud!

For His all-surpassing greatness—praise Him now!

Praise Him with strings, sweet melodies—

Praise Him with drums and bells— loud jubilance!

Praise Him with dance—pipes—will you praise?

Praise Him with the cymbals’ clashing—

Praise! Praise! Praise!

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Where a Creative’s Journey Begins

By Jenny Fulton

It begins deep within the heart of the artist.

There is a whisper, an idea; it stems from the spiritual depth of a being.

It is a voice yearning to be expressed.

-Jenny Fulton

For as long as I can remember, storytelling has been a part of me. When I was no more than four-years-old, I would draw pictures that had very detailed storylines.

“Come hewoo, Mommy,” I’d say. “Look at my pictoow. Look at what’s happening!”

A Child’s Story

Mommy would come, pencil in hand, ready to patiently dictate the story she knew I was about to tell her.

“The smoke is puffing up. The lightening is flashing. A tornado came up and make the smoke even higher. A flash of lightening filled the sky. The little girl was in her playhouse. She was frightened. Then she benembold [remembered] that Jesus was taking care of her. She knew that Jesus was by her even though she could not see Him. Then the storm went away because Jesus, said, ‘Quiet down storm, the little girl is frightened.’ So the storm quieted down and so the little girl smiled. The little girl’s name was Jenny.”

My head was full of words and stories that couldn’t seem to be contained, whether that release came by means of paper and pencil, or through playing pretend.

I certainly wasn’t the only creative in our house.

Some form of cross-stitch would usually be lying within reach of my mom’s hand. Sometimes she’d get out her autoharp and sing. She taught us to sing and harmonize with her.

My dad would often be working on some craft or other. Sometimes it was a piece of wood or leather that he chiseled and worked designs into. Sometimes it was beadwork or jewelry that took shape under his artisan hands. My favorite times were when he’d get out his banjo or guitar and play away in answer to some melody that danced through his heart and flowed out through his spirit by means of the notes played upon strings.

I loved those times of singing or listening to the music, loved how my soul seemed to soar and connect in joy with God.

As I grew older, my love for both music and writing grew. I learned how to play the guitar so I could sing and enjoy its sound anytime I wanted.

I wrote because, I couldn’t keep from doing so.

Thoughts unknown

Words unspoken

A universe waiting to be explored but lacking a vehicle to take me there

Until my fingers picked up the pen and unlocked my unspoken soul

I was known, throughout my school days, as the quiet one.  Parent-teacher conferences would generally include some version of, “Jenny is a great student, but I just wish she would speak up more in class.”

At some point, I realized that I didn’t want to speak up unless I knew exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.  Socially, I was the same way.  My mind would play out a million options for the conversation and analyze each possibility, along with the potential outcomes.  By the time it settled on one it deemed “safe,” the real conversation had already moved on.

Everything was different when I was alone and could pick up a beautiful, blank sheet of paper.  My fingers would reach down, pick up the pen, and say for me on paper what I could never seem to say in person.  Thoughts that were too numerous and too complicated to understand suddenly came pouring out through my fingers.   Things that didn’t make sense in my brain suddenly made sense on paper.  My spirit was given full, unhindered access as it raced through the pen and revealed itself in visible words.

In these moments, I was free.

My thoughts were known.

My spirit was given a voice.

I have believed in and followed God since I was very young – at least 5-years-old, if not younger, if my early stories are any indication. As I grew, I did the things good Christians are told to do: I prayed and read my Bible regularly. While those practices are good and they helped me grow in my relationship with and knowledge of God, it was those moments of immersing myself in music or writing that made me feel the most connected to Him.

As Laura Bartnick writes in her book, Welcome to the Shivoo,

In the beginning, God revealed Himself by creating. Apparently, this was His heart’s desire.

When I create, when we create from a Heart that loved us, we connect to this Heart in a strong, almost tangible way, as two beings whose camaraderie is strengthened by partaking in the joy of creation. We call this creativity, this similar activity. And, God’s Word says He created humanity in His own image. We are creatives because He is the Creative.

Like all other creatives, this is where my journey as a creative began. In the beginning, created in the image of God.

Little did I know where or how God would use my gifts in the future.

Psalm 45:1

My heart overflows with a good theme;

I address my verses to the King;

My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.[1]

 

Psalm 33:1-2

Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;

Praise is becoming to the upright.

Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;

Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.[2

Indian woman an angel and a child
Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye, children’s book

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 45:1.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 33:1–2.

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Untangling the Knots

Do you ever have a day that feels like a never-ending loop of knots to be untied? You have to solve one problem in order to gain entrance to the real problem – find an outlet, silence your phone, then assist a client all comes before you can see your way clear to untangling your own problems.

I had an hour of work that turned into two weeks of work because I had to back up and do the math, then I had to learn how to complete a new task that was part of the finished product. Then, I had to get permission to buy a software program in order to implement the answer.

It was a lot easier when all I had to do was give the ball of knots to my dad to untangle.

You may hear from a doctor that self-care is the act of providing yourself a sacred space in which to quiet your jangled nerves. It’s important, yes, to schedule peace in an overwhelming world.

To this end, I’ve found some simple things will sustain you  – things such as:

  • Giving yourself time to untangle a problem
  • Sharing hopes and dreams with somebody safe
  • pausing during a busy moment for a nudge of encouragement

Take a Step Against the Flow

Take a step against the flow and look at the surroundings for a different perspective.

Life is too short to go with the flow. Have fun and be different.”

Bianca Schlappa, Everyday Matters

Look further afield.

Look over a detail up close.

Sometimes, the masses have it mostly right but the right way just needs tweaking, and that is something that a different perspective can provide.

Use Your Humor, Wry Humor Acceptable

What’s the use of feeling sorry for yourself when you just get tangled into more knots? Even the wise and wonderful Oz got himself tangled up for a time behind a curtain far outside of Kansas and his usual County Fairs. Someone came along and discovered his need.

He was a little ashamed, but he laughed at his way of bumbling things up, and that helped. A lot. Someone came along and helped him find his way back home.

Laugh at yourself as you consider the past.

Open your hand to future options.

Celebrate Even a Partial Loosening of Knot Strands.

Thoughts from Winter Whispers: Breath of Joy by Kathy Joy

It heartens me in a way to know my knots are not all born from my individual situation or my personal inadequacy. It seems to be a community problem: “Humanity is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” This wit, from a friend of Job’s (Job 5:7). We are all just making our way through the challenging phases of life.

Help will arrive.

Ask for help.

Laugh a little.

Be willing to accept truth.

Choose as wisely as possible.

This article is co-written by good friends: author, Kathy Joy and editor, Laura Bartnick.

©Capture Books, 2020

Kathy Joy, Author of the Breath of Joy calendarial gift books
Laura Bartnick
Laura Bartnick is the author of Welcome to the Shivoo! a creative and inspirational guide to entering into the Creator’s great party.

Ask about booking KATHY JOY, or any of our authors for a zoom session with your book club or with your employees. We specialize in creative strand untangling.

Kathy Joy writes for Coffee with Kathy, and Pennsylvania’s Daily Jab.

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Lilacs and the Silence In Between

By Kathy Joy Hoffner

We’re experiencing some threshold moments: the silent in-between spaces where we have left something behind but have not yet entered the next portal. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart expressed it this way,

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence in between.”

Breath of Joy: by Kathy Joy

That interval between moments? That’s the space where we can be awake and ready for the next wonder.

You know what’s really beautiful in this moment?
The lilacs.

Nature considers them “essential” as they hang in abundant clusters from their branches. They have shown up to spread the fragrance of the familiar into our world of ambiguity.
With little regard for restrictions, the lilacs and magnolias, dogwoods and redbuds, are shaking off the grip of winter and spreading their glory onto a grateful canvas.

They are doing the essential work of being beautiful and sending healing.

Silent caregivers, these delicate buds nurture us back to curiosity; we are re-honing our ability to be astonished.

“Honor the space between no longer and not yet.”

Nancy Levin, Network for Gratefulness
Singing Spring, by Kathy Joy, photos by David T. Sayer, Glenn Damon

If we are stuck living inside the uncertainty, it’s at least really nice to look around at what’s real; what returns and wildly splashes color onto the landscape — year after year.

Be watchful. It only happens in the silence in-between. Let’s try to hold these moments with greater openness, in that uneasy experience of curiosity and trust.

Lunch Jab

Kathy Joy is the author of the gift book series, Breath of Joy. She is available for a variety of retreats, speaker events, and conferences. Book her now through her agent. https://booksforbondinghearts.com/contact/

Book Cover, Singing Spring
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