“O, My Soul”

In sixty nine of the psalms, the author addresses God directly, as in prayer. Most of the others speak to a general audience, but a handful have a very specific audience: the author himself. Here’s an example:

Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5

This passage was the primary inspiration for the German hymn “Lobe den Herren,” by Joachim Neander, published in 1680. Here is the first verse of the English translation of the hymn:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!

O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!

Join the great throng,

Psaltery, organ and song,

Sounding in glad adoration!

Hymns, 72

I’ve always thought of this hymn as a communal expression of praise and rejoicing, so I was fascinated to notice for the first time today that it has an audience of one. We are addressing ourselves when we sing this hymn, just as David did in the original psalm. (We use the singular pronoun “thee” throughout most of the hymn, indicating that we are still speaking to the original audience: “my soul.” Only in the final verse do we broaden the scope, inviting “all that hath breath” to join us in praise.)

To me, there is something poignant and inspiring about King David urging himself to praise the Lord. We are all aware (sometimes painfully) of the gap between what we should do and what we actually do. Some of our most meaningful spiritual growth occurs when we push ourselves to narrow that gap. Here is a similar passage from Nephi’s psalm, in which he pleads with himself to do better:

Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul….

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

2 Nephi 4:28, 30

As you listen to this arrangement of the hymn by Mack Wilberg, think about the individual process of spiritual growth it represents. We can all “join with Abraham’s seed” and praise God collectively, but the choice to participate is an individual one

Today, I will praise God. In my personal prayers, I will express gratitude for the blessings I have received from Him, and I will rejoice because of His goodness to me.

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