Sunday, March 14, 2021

Isaiah 50.4-9a: Listening to God

Morning by morning God wakens-- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious... (Isaiah 50:4b-5a) In the Psalter reading for The Liturgy of the Passion, the psalmist announces that the "whispering of many" is heard. The emphasis on ears and hearing in these two passages are good reminders that it is important that we listen to God and stand with God. It is the Lord God who helps me, Isaiah concludes. Who will declare me guilty?

One of the ways that artists have shown that voice of God is through a dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, whispering into the ear of prophets or gospel writers or, here, David as he writes the psalms. The dove, a soft-feathered creature, is also the symbol of hope and promise in the story of Noah. It was the dove who returned to the ark with an olive twig in its beak. It is also a symbol of peace. 

That's not exactly the feel of this dove. The giant bird (compare the size of the bird to the width of David's shoulders) is balanced on one foot on David's crown. The other leg and foot are thrown out for balance. The bird's beak appears to be in David's ear, not just directing words toward the ear in hopes that David will hear. The bird is literally speaking into David's ear as he composes the psalms. 
St. Albans Psalter. 12th century. Dombibliothek Hildesheim.
This particular illumination is the frontispiece for the psalms in the St. Albans manuscript. The text is the beginning of Psalm 1: BEATUS VIR (Blessed is the man). Remember that on the day Jesus enters into Jerusalem, there were cries of "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" David and Jesus listened to God. Not for David in this illustration nor for Jesus in the gospels does listening look like the pleasant experience we might expect it to be. And yet, listening to God is what we are charged to do, remembering that it is the Lord God who helps me. That makes us blessed regardless of the size of the bird or the pain of the cross. 

Look on page 56 of the St. Albans Psalter digital facsimile here for a second version of David being inspired as a musician. 

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