This particular Psalm is one which in Hebrew has the distinction of the first letter of each line starting with another letter of the alphabet. Of course this doesn’t translate well in English.
I find it interesting that this Psalm is put under the category of one to read when lonely are blue, in that it raises the opportunity of giving praise when things are not all that wonderful. Sometimes just being around people who are not in the same space that we are in pulsl us out of a bad attitude, or helps us to gain our perspective when things are not going well.
A friend of mine commented that we can hippity-hop down the mall totally happy, and we may raise a few smiles but other people, for the most part, won’t be brought into our happy space. And we can walk down the same mall totally depressed and we will not depress everybody around us. Most people just plod along through life somewhere in the middle between those two extremes.
My friend went on to comment that a big problem we face in society today is that we look for balance within an individual, when actually balance is only present within the community or larger group of people. Kids grow up thinking that they must be cool and not cry when terrible things happen, or must not show ecstasy when things are going very well – they must appear cool, not hot or cold.
The fact is that most people, to use the analogy of a piano, are playing life in the middle keys, gives the rest of us freedom to play the high keys occasionally (be ecstatic/joyful) or play the low keys (the sorrowful/depressed) without creating any danger to the community.
If you watch a funeral procession go by, you will notice a lot of tears in the first car, and a lot of laughter last car – and it’s the laughter, and the fact that life goes on for people not closely affected by the loss, which helps to carry the freight for those who are devastated by changes to their lives. The community creates a stable base within which our particular lives can be free to explore and participate in the full range of human emotion.
In this Psalm I hear echoes of this balancing effect of the community for the individual, and the freedom it gives just to be who we are at any particular time without having to “fake it”. I picture the author looking around at the various snapshots of people in his life from the perspective of being at some kind of a low point, and in doing so he is helped to regain his perspective.
Just as the author has taken a different letter of the alphabet to start off each sentence, I picture this author walking through a mall while having a bad day, and seeing the faces of an assortment of his neighbors, and pausing to think a little bit about each of their experiences of life.