Psalm 139 is one of my favorite and it is the responsorial psalm today at mass. I used to love the Dan Schutte song “Yahweh, I Know You Are Near” which is based on the psalm. Soon (if not already) in honor of our Jewish breathren we will probably not be allowed to sing it since the term Yahweh is really not supposed to be said.
Actually, the term centers around the second commandment of not taking God’s name in vain. We often think this refers to uttering God’s name as a curse, but the commandment itself centers on vanity, meaning thinking too much of ourselves. Ancient Judaism took the idea of vanity very seriously. We can almost hear the stereotype of the Jewish mother saying, “Who do you think you are?” (Cultural note: My Irish mother has the same tendencies–we are united in guilt). And that indeed was exactly their point about the name of God. Jews don’t even write out the letters. Instead, they write G-D. God’s name is so revered that they wouldn’t dare say it or write in. How did the term Yahweh come into being? Try this.
Take a deep breath…all together now…. YAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH
And exhale together…..WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHH.
It is our very breath, our being that is centered in God, the sound of life. We don’t dare say the name of the one who is Lord who is as mysterious as the wind. For anything more would be our own vanity.
I still love the song and will share it here and hope that it’s still on the books as an OK hymn for at least a while longer. Here is a funky version by the Jericho Youth Choir:
I also have a fondness for the song because a priest friend who will remain nameless here used to sing a parody version:
Yahweh, I know you drink beer
Standing always at the keg
You guard me from the foam
And You lead me to bars that are cheesy.
I hope that I haven’t alerted anyone’s heresies. And if I have…well, it’s probably not the first time.