From the Psalter:
Lord, you have searched me out and known me.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 139:1 (BCP Version) – June 8, 2013.)
Today, it is the evening psalm that I ponder.
The NRSV translation of the first verse of Psalm 139 is similar to that in The Book of Common Prayer: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” One renders the Hebrew verb chaqar as “search out;” the other as “search.” And both have always caused me to stop short and wonder, “What? The omniscient, omnipresent God has to look for me?”
Good thing chaqar has some other understandings:
- In the First Book of Samuel, David is afraid that Saul has decided to kill him and so his friend, Saul’s son Jonathan, tells David that he will “sound out” his father. Chaqar is the verb translated as “sound out.” (1 Samuel 20:12 NRSV)
- In the First Book of Kings, chaqar is rendered as “determined” when it is used in the story of Solomon making the bronze vessels for the Temple. They could not be weighed “because there were so many of them; the weight of the bronze was not determined.” (1 Kings 7:47 NRSV) – The New American Standard version of this verse uses “ascertained” to translate the Hebrew.
- In the story of Job, the New American Standard translation uses “ponder” to translate chaqar when Elihu says to Job: “I waited for your words, I listened to your reasonings, while you pondered what to say.” (Job 32:11 NAS)
So “searching” or “searching out” as used in the Psalm doesn’t mean “looking for.” It means giving careful consideration, as in the weighing of precious metal vessels in the First Book of Kings. Even more, it means the give-and-take between two persons, the “sounding out” of ideas, the coming to mutual understanding as two people share their thoughts. And it means to contemplate and meditate upon what the other has revealed, to ponder what he or she has communicated.
Ponder is not a word we use much anymore in modern American English. Say the word to most people and probably the first thing that will come to their minds is the opening stanza of a famous American poem:
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.”
(Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven)
Ponder, the dictionary tells us, means “to consider something deeply and thoroughly.” That is an image of God that resonates with me. I know full well that God is not an entity, not a being in the sense that God sits in heaven’s library late at night pondering over ancient tomes, leafing through the Book of Life or the Book of the Dead or the whichever book it is in which our “names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Nonetheless, I am intrigued and even comforted by that image.
Because that is precisely what I do! Especially on a Saturday when I do the final polishing of my sermon for the next day (and, if truth be told, more often than not “final polishing” actually means “start from scratch!”) Surrounded by bibles and books, my computer humming away, a cup of coffee (or other libation) nearby, I ponder God. That God might be simultaneously pondering me delights me. Together we ponder one another, we sound each other out, we ascertain our thoughts; perhaps (one hopes) we become “united in the same mind and the same purpose,” and perhaps within my mind forms “the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:10; Philip. 2:5) Hopefully, that gets onto the paper and into the sermon. That is, after all, the goal of writing and preaching homilies!
Lord, you have pondered me and known me; I ponder you and seek to know you . . . . and to preach your truth.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.