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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Psalm for Monday (a day late)- Psalm 48, vs. 13

סבו ציון והקיפוה ספרו מגדליה
Walk around Zion, and encircle her; count (“tell of”) her towers.

In my commentaries on the last few verses, I focused on the divine/human attributes of tzedek/righteousness and hesed/overflowing love, as the attributes that connect humanity on earth (i.e., the “earthly Jerusalem”) with the heavenly realm (“heavenly Jerusalem”).  Now in this verse, we are requested to walk about and survey Jerusalem and then to either “tell of” or “count” her towers (the Hebrew verb ס-פ-ר can be translated either way).

As the psalm nears its conclusion, it is as if the Psalmist is instructing us to survey the results of the actions we have taken.  Now that we have connected ourselves with the heavenly realm, thereby bringing peace and joy into our world, we must walk around “Jerusalem” and see the results of our actions.

We are told both to “walk around” (סבו) and “encircle” (הקיפו) the city.  Though these two almost synonymous, but not quite.  Together, they imply that we must both walk all through the city, as well as encircle it.  We are to view the city from both within and without.   In doing so we are both active participants and in the inner workings of the city and we are more passive observers.

How often in life are we simultaneously both actors and observers.  In some ways, this is what mindfulness practice asks of us.  We must live life in the moment, yet we must also pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that arise from our actions.  However, the trick is to simply notice and observe the thoughts and feelings, but not to judge them or become attached to them, thereby bringing about suffering.

I have written of this many times.  I try to practice this in my own life.  But, I am in no way implying that this is a simple task.  It takes practice and patience.  It takes that sense of connection to the One, rooted in righteousness and love, of which I have written.  And it requires us to have compassion on ourselves as we stumble and make mistakes.

Though in past verses I have interpreted Jerusalem and Zion as referring to the “heavenly” versions, here I believe we are being instructed concerning the human realm in which we live.  However, Jerusalem here is more than a city.  It is the holiness within us; it is the holy dwelling place we create here on earth by our holy actions.  We must pay attention to the effects our actions have on the world around us.  We must try to both intimately involve ourselves in this process and look at it as objectively as possible.

But what is the meaning of the command found in the second half of the verse?  What are these towers?  Are we to count them or tell of them?  We know that in ancient cities, towers were places from which soldiers or citizens could look out and spot any approaching enemies.  They were part of the protective barrier built around the city.  They were strongholds and fortresses of protection.

In surveying our spiritual home, our own Jerusalem, we must pay attention to (count) the structures we have built both to protect us and to give us security.  But counting them is not enough.  For only by acknowledging their existence (telling of them) can we begin to use them properly.  For they are not only meant to keep out the enemy, but they are also meant to allow the residents of the town to enter and exit safely.

We all have protective towers that we build around heart and soul.  After all, we do need boundaries to live an emotionally, psychologically and spiritually healthy life.  But too often, we allow our boundaries to become too strong or rigid.  We build our towers so sturdy that we keep out others who try to connect with us.  And ultimately we keep out God. 

But the closed, rigid nature of these ‘towers’ also keeps in that which we want to let go of us well.  These rigid structures can prevent us from casting out pride, anger, hatred, jealousy and fear.  All of these are natural emotions, but they can begin to gnaw at us if we do not notice them and then let them go.  And so, by acknowledging and naming (telling of) these protective structures we can also do the work we need to in order to use them appropriately in life. 

If we build our tower too strong, we are unable to let out these forces of the ego, which seek to destroy us from within.  It is by building the towers just strong enough, and then constantly paying attention to them, that will allow us to maintain a balance of emotion, spirit, psyche and intellect.  This balance allows us to remember that we are part of the One, connected to all, while still acknowledging that which makes each of us unique.  And we can only achieve this by looking at ourselves from inside and out, with compassion, love and righteousness.  We can only achieve this by making sure that our boundaries neither too rigid nor too porous and by remembering that the ultimate goal is not to protect, but to connect with the One.

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