This psalm holds a universal truth about all of us: we are knitted together by God and shaped to be the person that God has called us to be.
O God, you search me and you know me.
All my thoughts lie open to your gaze.
When I walk or lie down you are before me:
Ever the maker and keeper of my days.
You know my resting and my rising.
You discern my purpose from afar,
And with love everlasting you besiege me:
In ev’ry moment of life or death, you are.
Before a word is on my tongue, Lord,
You have known its meaning through and through.
You are with me beyond my understanding:
God of my present, my past and future, too.
Although your Spirit is upon me,
Still I search for shelter from your light.
There is nowhere on earth I can escape you:
Even the darkness is radiant in your sight.
For you created me and shaped me,
Gave me life within my mother’s womb.
For the wonder of who I am, I praise you:
Safe in your hands, all creation is made new.
©1992 Bernadette Farrell OCP Publications
This is an amazing psalm where the writer seeks to understand the great mystery of our Creator. It is attributed to King David and within the Jewish tradition it is part of the last book of the psalms. It is really clear that the psalm reflects the writer’s belief that God is omnipresent. Wherever we go, God is there, knowing everything there is about us. God is the Creator of all things not simply of the whole of creation but also of each one of us. David believes that he has been knitted by God in the womb, created and shaped to be the person he is. The psalm holds a universal truth about all of us. We have all been knitted together by God and shaped to be the person that God has called us to be.
When I first came across Psalm 139, it scared me witless! My chronically poor sense of self-worth at the time could not bear the thought of God knowing every bit of me. I wanted to believe in a God who was only interested in seeing me when the time was right. My time! If God had created me ‘good’ then something had gone badly wrong. Praying this psalm left me feeling overwhelmed, fearful and shameful, not for anything in particular but simply because my whole psyche at the time felt rubbish. I felt squashed and worthless. Once after praying this psalm I drew a picture of a great hand coming towards me, not in love or compassion but to oppress and smother me. At the time I was struggling with all kinds of questions about myself, my place in the world and my place with God. I was confused, and like Thomas, full of doubt. Being given this psalm to pray in a retreat did not help me – the idea that I could not escape God terrified me.
Of course this is not what the psalmist was saying at all. When finally I stopped being fearful I saw the immense love in the psalm – I saw a God who loves me despite my failings and not because of them, a God who sees every bone in my body, can count every hair on my head, cherishes every breath that I breathe and can only breathe because God wills it.
Today, I find this a very reassuring psalm. God loves me and knows me inside out and when no one else understands my quirky ways, my insecurity, my questioning, I know at least that God does and God still wants to know me. Bernadette Farrell’s composition is a gentle but powerful opportunity for the singer and the listener to enter into the mystery and depth of the words. Her music allows the words to touch the soul and the melodic rhythm captures the enormity and the power of God in our lives.
How do you feel about the idea of God seeing everything that you are doing and thinking?
Have you ever experienced God present to you in a tangible way?
Do you have a favourite version of this psalm that you sing or like to listen to?
If you do what makes it special for you?