Psalm 1: On Trees and Paths

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This past week was spent with Psalm 1 each morning, for at least five minutes with a fresh cup of coffee. I found the most impactful translation of the Psalm to be the Inclusive Bible:

Happiness comes to those who reject the path of violence,
who refuse to associate with criminals
or even to sit with people who belittle others.

Happiness comes to those who delight in the Law of YHWH
and meditate on it day and night.
They’re like trees planted by flowing water —
they bear fruit in every season, and their leaves never wither:
everything they do will prosper.
But not wrongdoers! They’re like chaff that the wind blows away.

They won’t have a taproot to anchor them when judgment comes,
nor will corrupt individuals be given a place at the Gathering of the Just.

YHWH watches over the steps of those who do justice;
but those on a path of violence and injustice will find themselves irretrievably lost.

Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible (pp. 1157-1158). Sheed & Ward. Kindle Edition.

The image of the tree as been a central part of my faith journey since I was a young boy in church doodling fruit laden branches on worship bulletins and in Bible page margins to visualize the Fruit of the Spirit. I would doodle the tree from Jeremiah 17 that has roots down to the flowing waters… in fact there’s an acrylic canvas of that tree on my dining room wall I painted some years ago. I’ve done my best to follow St. Paul’s admonition to be rooted to Christ. And of course, we have our tree planted by the flowing water in Psalm 1.

The tree is the image of robust strength, stability and growth even in the most difficult times, and it’s providing for others by bearing fruit. It’s a good image and good analogy for us in our intentional choices of where and how we’ll put down our roots. We want to choose, as the psalmist encourages, the path of righteousness, which is justice and goodness. We want to reach into those life giving waters, and for Christians that has always meant spending time with Jesus, soaking up his teaching and examining his Way for emulation in our own lives, this Jesus who promised to be in us a wellspring of living water.

Speaking of choices we make and the Way of Christ, the other image in the psalm is that of the path, the system of choices by which we navigate our days. If the tree image doesn’t resonate at the moment, perhaps the path will… we have images of both standing still and strong, and moving on in confidence and blessing. Life is often like that, huh? We have times of standing fast and times of moving fast. I know that life rarely feels so straight forward or as simple as wisdom literature usually presents, just two paths of right and wrong. It seems that in life we find ourselves more often at a twelve way intersection of choices than at a simple fork in the road, but the idea still works… trying to keep on the good path, the way of life and wholeness. It truly can be a daily effort to leave aside the opportunities and inclinations to be apathetic toward, verbally abusive, dismissive, cruel or even criminal toward the people around us, but that effort is crucial to both our dignity and joy and that of others.

It’s easy to read passages like Psalm 1 as an us vs. them arrangement, winners and losers, and dividing us to those who are good and those who are bad. But by spending time with roots down into those flowing waters, and meditating on the paths that bring life, you come realize that this isn’t us vs. them, but in fact it’s about living as though there is no them; there is only us. Whether we’re talking about a tree growing strong and providing fruit and shade in the midst of a life’s droughts, or we’re talking about paths of hope and goodness that help us all navigate our way through life, we’re in this together. We should act like it.

Peace to you,
Rev. Todd