Beliefnet
So far in this series we have been focusing on psalms of joy. But psalms have many moods, and where there is sun there are also shadows.

In the psalm we are about to sing, Psalm 63, we'll hear some of the darker emotional colors of the psalm tradition. We'll also take the next step in learning to sight sing a psalm using the simple, modern notation of New Camaldoli Monastery in Big Sur, California.

Let's listen first to the psalm, with its antiphon:

Antiphon
In the shadow of your wings I rejoice, allelujah.

Psalm 63
O God, my God, at dawn I seek you,
for you my soul is thirsting, my flesh is longing,
like a dry and parched land longs for water.

I have gazed on you in the holy place,
to behold your might and your glory.
Better than life itself is your love,
my lips will sing your praise.

So I shall bless you all my life long,
lifting up my hands to invoke your name;
my soul will be filled as with rich feasting,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.

I remember you as I lie on my bed,
On you I meditate through the watches of the night,
for you, O God, have come to aid me.

I rejoice in the shadow of your wings,
to you my soul has held fast,
you have sustained me by your right hand.

Doxology:
In the Spirit of Christ your Son,
the Church meditates on your glory,
through the watches of the night.

In the shadow of your wings I rejoice, allelujah.

This is a very poignant and personal psalm, a song of deep spiritual yearning. The imagery of the desert runs through it: "My soul is thirsting, my flesh is longing, like a dry and parched land longs for water."

This aching sense of absence is counterbalanced in the wonderfully comforting verse, which furnishes the antiphon for this psalm: "I rejoice in the shadow of your wings. To you my soul has held fast, you have sustained me by your right hand."

So the psalm sings of that place on that journey where the light and the dark are somehow very close together. The hunger is real; what we yearn for seems so far away, and yet in a dim and dark way we know it is also somehow holding us close. The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart expresses this paradox well when he says, "The eye with which you seek God is the eye with which God seeks you."

Psalm 63 celebrates that mysterious dark closeness; the presence that feels like absence. For those on the spiritual journey who have encountered this paradoxical dark place, this psalm brings the comfort of recognition and reassurance. Not surprisingly, it's a favorite among Christian contemplatives.

As we prepare to sing this psalm, let's first look at the two parts of the "psalm sandwich," the antiphon and psalm tone. The antiphon, predictably, is haunting and lyrical. Drawn from a verse in the psalm itself, it makes a brief, powerful statement of the psalm's theme: "In the shadow of your wings I rejoice, allelujah!" Because this short affirmation is reinforced by the power of the music, the antiphon will tend (as most antiphons do) to work its way deep down into your memory bank and pop up when least expected--and most needed.

Now let's turn to the psalm tone itself and begin by simply reviewing what we know. Just as before, you'll see right below the antiphon what look to be three musical measures, labeled "odd lines," "even lines," "last line only." Let's listen to what each of these sounds like. Here's the first, the odd line:

La La La

Then the even line:

La La La

And then the last line only:

La La La

These three "measures" give us the tune to which we'll be singing the psalm verses. As before, it's simply a matter of matching the line of psalm text to the appropriate line of music.

O God, my God, at dawn I seek you,
for you my soul is thirsting, my flesh is longing,
like a dry and parched land longs for water.

In the first verse of this psalm, this matching poses no problem: three lines of psalm text, three measures of music. But the next verse has four lines:

I have gazed on you in the holy place
to behold your might and your glory.

What now? Simple. That's what the "odd lines," "even lines" instruction is all about. When you come to line three (which is an odd-numbered line), you sing it to the tune marked "odd lines"--i.e., what appears to be the first measure of our psalm tone:

Better than life itself is your love;
my lips will sing your praise.

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