As I’ve been reflecting on this psalm, the song from GodSpell based on this psalm, keeps coming back to me, filling my head with music: “O Bless the Lord, my Soul!” (1a, 2a, 22b) There are many reasons to bless the Lord. Psalm 103 is a hymn of praise for all the good that God has done, written by someone who has experienced God’s forgiveness. “Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” (3-4)
God is to be praised for his forgiveness and his steadfast love and mercy: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (8) “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” (11) “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” (17a)
God doesn’t deal with us as we deserve, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities,” (10) but with love and mercy, forgiving our sins and removing them, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (12) God is a loving father, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him.” (13)
Even though our lives are short, that doesn’t diminish the writer’s thankfulness. If anything it increases it as he wonders that God would love us lowly humans. “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him.” (15-17a)
As I read through all of the reasons for gratitude, I was stopped by the phrase, “so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.” (5b) I wish! Wouldn’t it be great to have the vigor of our youth and the knowledge of age? If only that would happen.
Some commentators suggest that this refers to how eagles molt each year, shedding one coat of feathers for another. Others detect an allusion to a phoenix, the mythical bird that rises out of the ashes as mentioned in Job. “Then I said: ‘In my own nest I shall grow old; I shall multiply years like the phoenix’” (Job 29:18)
While in seminary, working on my doctorate, one of my colleagues mentioned how every year she would buy a new set of outfits with accessories to allow her to have different looks while still using the same two or three outfits. She threw away her old clothes each year. This kept her life simple and her closets uncluttered, unlike mine which are packed with clothing I keep just in case I might need it someday. She re-invented herself every year.
I doubt I could ever go to that extreme, but I like the idea of re-inventing myself now and then. I also love the image of the phoenix rising out of the ashes. How many times over the years have I re-invented myself? How many new lives have emerged out of the death of the old as loss leads to rebirth?
Perhaps this is the renewal to which the psalmist is referring. Perhaps I’m in the midst of re-inventing myself and once that is done, I will be rejuvenated. I hope so. Out of my job losses of two years ago, a new life is being born. But while I await that day, it’s okay to be tired. 🙂
In the meantime, I have plenty of reasons to join with the psalmist in blessing the Lord.
What does the phrase “your youth is renewed like an eagle,” mean to you? Have you re-invented yourself lately? How many times have you re-invented yourself over the course of your life? I would love to hear from you.