Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

The Wisdom of Yeshua Ben Sira and the Gentle Mastery of Jesus Christ


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest

The Gentle Mastery of Christ.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. Matthew 11:28-30)

When Jesus says “who labor and are burdened” he means burdened by the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees. On another occasion Matthew says:

They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to his word, under which they will find rest in place of the yoke of the law, complicated by scribal interpretation.

  • Thus says the LORD: Stand by the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old, “Which is the way to good?” and walk it; thus you will find rest for yourselves. But they said, “We will not walk it.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

These verses of Matthew are peculiar and are similar to ben Sirach’s invitation to learn wisdom and submit to her yoke:

  • Come aside to me, you untutored, and take up lodging in the house of instruction; (Sirach 51:23)
  • Take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her. (Sirach 51:26)

The Wisdom of Ben Sirach

Sirach” or the “The Wisdom of Sirach” from which the verses, quoted above, attributed to Jesus ben Sira has been drawn is the last of the seven “Wisdom Books” in the Old Testament.  The other six are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Wisdom.

Illustration from Sirach, c. 1751.
Illustration from Sirach, c. 1751.

 

The Wisdom of Sirach is a collection of ethical teachings, a work from the early 2nd century BC. It is the work of a single author – Jesus ben Sirach of Jerusalem. It closely resembles Proverbs, which is an anthology of maxims drawn from various sources. The work derives its title from the author’s words:

  • Wise instruction, appropriate proverbs, I have written in this book— I, Yeshua [Jesus] Ben Eleazar Ben Sira — as they poured forth from my heart’s understanding. (Sirach 50:27)

The title “Sirach” comes from the Greek form of the author’s name.

The author, Jesus ben Sirach of Jerusalem was thoroughly imbued with love for the wisdom tradition, and also for the law, the priesthood, the Temple, and divine worship. As a wise and experienced observer of life he addressed himself to his contemporaries with the motive of helping them maintain religious faith and integrity through study of the books sacred to the Jewish tradition.

The Wisdom of Sirach contains numerous well-crafted maxims, grouped by affinity, and dealing with a variety of subjects such as the individual, the family, the community, the state, and communion with God. It treats of friendship, education, poverty and wealth, laws, religious worship, and many other issues that reflect the religious and social customs of the period.

Wisdom, in Ben Sira’s view, is synonymous with the reverence of God, and sometimes is identified in his mind with adherence to the Mosaic law.

The contents of “The Wisdom of Ben Sirach” are of a discursive nature, not easily divided into separate parts. Chapters 1–43 deal largely with moral instruction; 44:1–50:24 contain a eulogy of the heroes of Israel. There are two appendixes in which the author expresses his gratitude to God (51:1–12), and invites the unschooled to acquire true wisdom (51:13–30).

Jesus ben Sirach may have authored the work in Alexandria, Egypt, between 180 – 175 BC, where he is thought to have established a school. It was originally written in Hebrew. The text was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson after 117 BC, who also added a prologue, which contains valuable information about the book, its author, and himself as the translator.

The Wisdom of Sirach” seems to be the earliest title of the book it is also known by various names:

Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira“,

Wisdom of Sirach“,

The Book Ecclesiasticus“,

Siracides“,

Proverbs of ben Sirach” (משלי בן סירא, Mišley ben Siraʼ),

Wisdom of ben Sirach” (חכמת בן סירא,Ḥokhmat ben Siraʼ), or simply “Sirach.”

Though there are numerous citations of Sirach in the Talmud and works of rabbinic literature (as “ספר בן סירא”, e.g., Hagigah 13a) the book was not accepted into the scriptural canon of Judaism after the first century A.D., nor, therefore, accepted by Protestants.

The Wisdom of Ben Sirach has been acknowledged by the Catholic Church as inspired and canonical. The Foreword, though not properly part of the book, is always included with it because of its antiquity and importance. Sirach is also accepted as part of the Christian biblical canon by Eastern Orthodox, and most Oriental Orthodox churches.

The Greek Church Fathers also called it the “All-Virtuous Wisdom.” The Latin Church Fathers, beginning with Saint Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (died September 14, 258) termed it “Ecclesiasticus.” The designation “Liber Ecclesiasticus,” meaning “Church Book,” appended to some Greek and Latin manuscripts, is perhaps due to the extensive use the church made of this book in presenting moral teaching to catechumens and to the faithful.

Until the close of the nineteenth century “The Wisdom of Ben Sirach” was known to Christians in translations, of which the Greek rendering was the most important. From it the Latin version was made. Between 1896 and 1900, again in 1931, and several times since 1956, incomplete manuscripts were discovered, so that more than two thirds of the book in Hebrew is available. These Hebrew texts agree substantially with the Greek. One such text, from Masada, is pre-Christian in date. So, the work of ben Sirach is presently known through various versions, which scholars still struggle to disentangle.

Hebrew translation of Ben Sira, 1814 (Vienna 1814)
Hebrew translation of Ben Sira, 1814 (Vienna 1814)

 

Here is a sample of Jesus Ben Sira’s wisdom.

Ben Sira’s Pursuit of Wisdom – Sirach 51:13-30

13 When I was young and innocent,
I sought wisdom.

14 She came to me in her beauty,
and until the end I will cultivate her.

15 As the blossoms yielded to ripening grapes,
the heart’s joy,
My feet kept to the level path
because from earliest youth I was familiar with her.

16 In the short time I paid heed,
I met with great instruction.

17 Since in this way I have profited,
I will give my Teacher grateful praise.

18 I resolved to tread her paths;
I have been jealous for the good and will not turn back.

19 I burned with desire for her,
never relenting.
I became preoccupied with her,
never weary of extolling her.
I spread out my hands to the heavens
and I came to know her secrets.

20 For her I purified my hands;
in cleanness I attained to her.
At first acquaintance with her, I gained understanding
such that I will never forsake her.

21 My whole being was stirred to seek her;
therefore I have made her my prize possession.

22 The LORD has rewarded me with lips,
with a tongue for praising him.

23 Come aside to me, you untutored,
and take up lodging in the house of instruction;

24 How long will you deprive yourself of wisdom’s food,
how long endure such bitter thirst?

25 I open my mouth and speak of her:
gain wisdom for yourselves at no cost.

26 Take her yoke upon your neck;
that your mind may receive her teaching.
For she is close to those who seek her,
and the one who is in earnest finds her.

27 See for yourselves! I have labored only a little,
but have found much.

28 Acquire but a little instruction,
and you will win silver and gold through her.

29 May your soul rejoice in God’s mercy;
do not be ashamed to give him praise.

30 Work at your tasks in due season,
and in his own time God will give you your reward.

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Prayer Beads: The Buddhist Japa mala


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj .

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Digital StillCamera

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Buddhism is a way of life that got transformed into a religion. It is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs, and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha, Shakyamuni, or simply as the Buddha. The Buddha, meaning “the awakened one” lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent between the 6th and 4th centuries BC.

According to Dīpavaṃsa, the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka, Buddhism was introduced into the island during the reign of Sri Lanka’s King Devanampiya Tissa (307 BC to 267 BC) by Venerable Mahinda, the son of the great Indian Emperor Ashoka.

Around 228 BC, Sohn Uttar Sthavira, one of the royal monks of Emperor Ashoka came to Suvarnabhumi (or Burma, the present day Myanmar) with few other monks carrying Buddhist sacred texts.

Buddhism was introduced into China during the reign Emperor Ming (58-75 AD).

In 372 AD, about 800 years after the death of the historical Gautama Buddha, Buddhism was introduced to Korea from Former Qin, a state of the Sixteen Kingdoms in China.

Buddhism took root in Japan during the Kofun period (250 to 538 AD).

During the reign of King Thothori Nyantsen (5th century AD), a basket of Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit arrived in Tibet from India which were not translated into Tibetan until the reign of king Songtsän Gampo (618-649 AD) who had married a Chinese Tang Dynasty Buddhist princess and a Nepalese Buddhist princess, named Bhrikuti.

Eventually, Buddhism became the established religion in these countries.

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Tibetan Buddhist 108 Ox Bone Skull Prayer Beads Mala
Tibetan Buddhist 108 Ox Bone Skull Prayer Beads Mala

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The Buddhists in India adopted the Hindu practice of using Japa mala for repeating mantras or counting breaths. As Buddhism spread to other eastern countries so did Japa mala for meditation. They also used the Japa mala as a divination tool.

The voices of groups of monks chanting together resonate from the Buddhist monasteries in a continual monotonous murmuring. Chanting with a string of 108 prayer beads helps the Buddhist faithful to reach an interior state of supreme reality beyond time and place.

Like the Hindu Japa mala, the Buddhist Japa mala too are usually composed of 108 beads or divisions of that number, 54 or 27. The 108 beads represent the number of worldly desires or negative emotions that must be overcome before attaining nirvana. Buddhists believe that saying a mantra for each fleshly failing will purify the supplicant.

The Buddhist Japa malas are made of sandalwood, seeds, stones, or inlaid animal bone.

Burmese Buddhist monks prefer strings of black lacquered beads.

In Tibet, Japa malas of inlaid bone originally included the skeleton parts of revered monks, to remind their users to live lives worthy of the next level of enlightenment. Today’s bone malas are made of yak bone, which is sometimes inlaid with turquoise and coral.

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Buddhist 27-bead wrist malas
Buddhist 27-beads wrist malas

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Smaller 27-bead wrist malas were created mainly to prevent the prayer beads from touching the ground during prostrations.

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Prayer Beads: The Hindu Japa mala


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

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The antiquity of the Japa mala, the Hindu rosary, is confirmed by its frequent inclusion in sculpture and painting along with Hindu deities such as Agni, Agastya, Ahirbudhnya, Ardhanarisvara, Bhadrakali, Bhringin, Brhaspati, Gauri, Kamantaka, Lakulisa, Manasa, Parvati, Rati, Risi(s), Shiva, Subramanya, Surya, Uma, and Vāyu, among others. Lesser spirits are believed to dwell in rosary-bead perforations.

A female Shiva sadhu (sadhvi) in Haridwar, India. (Photo: Brett Davies, 2010)
A female Shiva sadhu (sadhvi) in Haridwar, India, holding a Japa mala. (Photo: Brett Davies, 2010)

The Sanskrit term “Japa mala” for the strand of Hindu prayer beads means ‘muttering chaplet’ because of the prayer beads’ function to record the number of prayers uttered.

Japa mala is used as an aid to meditation, each bead counted is an individual prayer or mantra, that keeps the mind from wandering and make it concentrate, without distractions, on the meaning of the prayer being recited. Recitation is usually murmured, or silent. The repetition of a mantra or divine names through the devotional act known as japa yoga

This practice of praying using prayer beads to keep count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a self-selected deity (ishtadevata) became widespread by the eighth century BC in India.

108-bead mala of  jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.
108-beads Japa mala of jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.

The 108 beads of the Japa mala represents the cosmos derived by multiplying the twelve astrological signs by the nine planets. Hence the Japa malas are usually made from 108 beads, though other numbers, usually divisible by nine, are also used. The total number of beads may vary among different Hindu sects. A common Vaishnavite Japa mala has 108 beads. Shaivites often use 32, or 64. There are many other variants.

27- beads Japa Mala made of Rudraksha seed
27- beads Japa Mala made of Rudraksha seeds.

When worn visibly by a Hindu, the material used for the Japa mala bead can indicate the Hindu deity or sect to whom the Japa mala and its wearer are dedicated.

According to Hindu tradition the correct way to use a mala is to hold it with the right hand, with the thumb flicking one bead to the next, and with the mala draped over the middle finger. Since the index finger represents the ego, the greatest impediment to self-realization, it is considered best to avoid using it when chanting on a mala.

A widely used Hindu Japa mala prayer is the Gāyatrī Japam also called Gāyatrī Mantra, repeated twice a day in the morning and in the evening. It is addressed to Savitr, the Sun before sunrise, the supreme generative force and ruler of the planets, to propitiate hostile planets or angry gods. The greater the number of repetitions, the greater the blessing. The favored number of repetitions are 27, 54, or 108 times, without any break. Through repetition, the reciter strives to accumulate an inner force originating from the Sun, to illuminate his mind, to gain knowledge, energy, and blessings in one’s undertakings.

Materials used in Hindu Japa malas are the most varied of those used among all religions. Most of them are of vegetable origin that include seeds, berries, fruit, nuts, drupes, dried plant stems, and wood. From mineral sources come glass, semiprecious or precious stones, and metals. Materials of animal origin such as bone, ivory, horn, coral, shells and pearls are also used. A Japa mala made of gold or gemstones is considered one hundred times more auspicious and efficacious than any other material. Glass, especially coloured ones simulating precious stones, has also been used for centuries. Today plastic beads that simulate natural minerals are universally used because of their low-cost.

The Hindus believe that each material embodies its own particular properties: Silver and gold fulfill wishes; coral brings wealth; crystal, good luck; pearls, glory; and shell helps one to achieve fame.

Many Hindus fear falling prey to evil eyes that could fall on them and their Japa Mala. To avoid this some members belonging to certain Hindu sects place the Japa mala and the hand holding it into a small cloth bag called gaumukhi, meaning “cow’s mouth” while reciting the prayers.

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The Power of Prayer


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Power of Prayer

A convenience store called Cigars and Smoke was transformed into a liquor bar in March this year.

The bar sits just 200 feet away from the church of St. Augustine. This infuriated the congregation of St. Augustine, and local officials scratched their heads because a loophole in the County’s law allows a bar to be opened next to a church.

Every day, while the members of St. Augustine’s church were getting ready for their evening service, bartenders of Cigars and Smoke next door were also getting ready for their evening service. “Our community is a quiet one. Now every church-goer is complaining about the noise since it opened in March” said a senior member of the congregation.

For almost a month Father Patrick, the parish priest rained down brimstone and fire from the pulpit against the bar. “We are seeking the presence of the Lord and it is not congruent and it is not acceptable to us to have that damn thing next door to us,” he said. His congregation joined him in prayer invoking God to have the business closed.

Lightning striking a building

A month later, Cigars and Smoke was struck by lightning and was burned to ashes.

The bar owner sued the parish priest and the entire church members for restitution for the loss of his bar. He claimed the lightning that struck his bar was the direct result of their prayer to God.

The parish priest and the members of the congregation countered this allegation and denied all responsibility.

The learned judge after listening to the arguments of both the parties commented:

It is difficult to decide the case because we have here on one side a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and on the other side a priest and an entire congregation that does not believe in it!

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Is Bible the World’s Best-selling or Most-read or Most Distributed Book?


READERS HAVE VIEWED THIS POST MORE THAN 11,970 TIMES.

 

 

Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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A few days ago, some friends and I while discussing the Holy Bible unwittingly got divided into three factions. One group claimed the Bible as the world’s best-selling book. Another group upheld it as the world’s most-read books. The third group considered it as the most-printed and most-distributed Book.

Many devout Christians are quick to assert that the Holy Bible is the world’s best-selling book, for all time. They claim that because a great number of people purchased the Bible, it, therefore, has lots of philosophical truth in it.

The Bible, the Quran, and Quotation from Chairman Mao, often reported as the most-printed and most-distributed books worldwide have hundreds of millions of copies to their credit. Exact print statistics for such books are, in fact, not available, or inaccurate because many unrelated publishers have printed these books over several centuries. Many books such as Don Quixote, The Three Musketeers, Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Pinocchio, the individual Harry Potter books and much more generally cited as “best-selling books” do not have dependable sales figures.

Obviously, the mere volume of books sold has no relation to their content. Therefore, the Bible cannot be considered as the best-selling book of all time for several reasons:

Firstly, the Bible in its many versions have been in print for hundreds of years, and their number has not been reliably accounted for. Hence, over such a time, we can only estimate the number of bibles sold. Statistically, such an estimate without a measure of confidence with it is useless.

Secondly, not all copies of the Bible fetch money. In fact, many missionaries hand out enormous numbers of bibles free of charge. These cannot be counted in a bestseller list, not only because they have not been sold, but because the person receiving the book may not actually want it. Compare this to the Harry Potter series, where the numbers given away free dwindles into insignificance.

Thirdly, not all copies of the Bible are read, and almost no one reads them cover to cover. On the other hand, if you consider a modern novel, it would be ludicrous and unthinkable for a person to read only a few pages at random and ignore the rest. Do you know that most copies of the Bible placed in bedside drawers in some hotels across the world are never read, and in many cases rarely even seen by any living creature?

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“Entertainment for the Saints”


If the affluence of America impressed me, the affluence of Christians impressed me even more. The United States has about 5,000 Christian book and gift stores,1 carrying varieties of products beyond my ability to imagine—and many secular stores also carry religious books. All this while 4,845 of the world’s 6,912 languages are still without a single portion of the Bible published in their own language! In his book My Billion Bible Dream, Rochunga Pudaite says, “Eighty-five percent of all Bibles printed today are in English for the nine percent of the world who read English. Eighty percent of the world’s people have never owned a Bible while Americans have an average of four in every household.”

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What is her name?


The soul of an unborn baby asked God, “Are you going to send me to Earth tomorrow?”

God replied, “Yes.”

The baby said, “But here in heaven I am quite happy.”

God said, “Yes. I know you are happy here. But I have promised that angel on Earth that I will give you to her. Now, she is eagerly waiting for your arrival.”

The baby said, “How am I going to live there being so small, fragile and helpless? Who will protect me?”

God said, “Don’t worry. On Earth, your angel will take care of you.  She will smile and sing for you. She will engulf you with her love. She will protect you even at the cost of her own life. You will find solace and happiness in her loving bosom.”

Then the child asked God, “If I am to leave heaven may I know my angel’s name.”

God smiled and said, “Her name is ‘Mother’.”

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“An attack on the religion, and not the religious…” by @GrumpyComments


I agree with Felix O’Shea when he says that he hates religion. Jesus himself was in no way religious and he uttered some very strong words against the religious leaders and religious teachers of his period. In turn he was ridiculed and rebuked by the priesthood of his period. They waited for the moment to pounce on him. See Mark 11:27-33 and my post in my blog Inspirations titled “By what authority?”

We should not forget the fact that it was religion that crucified Jesus for teaching against their way of teacching.

I am reproducing below an article posted by Felix O’Shea (@GrumpyComments) titled “An attack on the religion, and not the religious…” that conveys my thought in essence.

An attack on the religion, and not the religious…

Posted on April 10, 2012 by @GrumpyComments

There’s a little rant that I’d like to get off my chest, but I certainly don’t want it to misunderstood, or misinterpreted.

I hate religion.

Now, this is a very bold statement of course, and any initial presumptions you might have for my meaning need to be set aside for a moment. I don’t hate religious people; I don’t hate people who believe in god, or worship him, or put their faith in Jesus, or believe in a higher power or a creation theory. I don’t hate any of these people much in the same way as I don’t hate an owl for eating a mouse, a cloud for blocking the sunshine, or my girlfriend for using a Mac instead of a Windows. Every life form on Earth operates in the way they believe to be in optimum equilibrium with what they want, what they need, and what they perceive of the world around them. If a person wants to find their strength and faith in something supernatural or religious, then I’ll gladly march for their right to do so. No, I don’t hate any religious person, even to the level of zealots and extremists taking lives and terrorising people. They too are simply trying to live in accordance with what they have been taught to, or chosen to, believe.

Religion itself however, as a singular entity, is something I can hate.

It is a single idea that exists on a plane free of logic or observable fact, amidst a sea of denied philosophies and repressed ideas. From the extreme, to the conservative, no religious denomination has been able to fit itself into the modern world without some degree of a needless logical leap or an unessasary suspension of disbelief. The apparent answers provided by religion pose no benefit to humanity that a person can’t find for themselves via a more appropriate passage; and as such, the anger and the hate and the racism, the misogyny and the homophobia, are in no way an acceptable counter-balance for the negative reapercussions of many of today’s modern religious organisations. I accept the good that many of these groups do for the world, but as I said, these are not deeds that need to be applied to religion, but actions that man is perfectly capable of rationally deciding to undertake, for the benefit of those around them

If your god tells you that it’s wrong to be gay, or that women should be subservient, or that people who believe in something that contradicts your own views should burn in hell, then that’s fine. I accept that you’re only following the beliefs and ideals that you have been raised around or have stumbled upon, and while I hope you decide to some day walk a different path, I understand that you have the right not to. I don’t hate you, nor do I harbour any ill-will towards you.

Religion itself however, I do hate. I hate that this is a world in which it needs to exist. I hate the notion that people need it, and willingly perpetuate its existence in the face of all the bad that it has done and will do to the collective people of this world. I hate the concept that there exists something that after over one hundred thousand years, still controls people’s thoughts and actions despite no credible proof of its validity.

One day, I like to think that it will be gone, and then at least people will have a little bitless to fight about.

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Bangkok Temples, Petals and Patterns


Enchanting photographs reflecting the holy lustre of the Buddha’s abode.

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where'smyT-backandotherstories

With its tourism campaign spiel ‘Amazing Thailand’, Bangkok alone draws eight million tourists a year.

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De profundis


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Credits: Photograph uploaded by alexj in http://art-profiles.com

In the Holy Bible, Psalms 130 is one of the Penitential psalms. This penitential lament, is the De profundis used in liturgical prayers for the faithful departed in Western liturgical tradition.

Psalms, Chapter 130

1 A song of ascents.
I
Out of the depths I call to you, LORD;

2 Lord, hear my cry!
   May your ears be attentive
   to my cry for mercy.

3 If you, LORD, keep account of sins,
   Lord, who can stand?

4 But with you is forgiveness
   and so you are revered.

II

5 I wait for the LORD,
   my soul waits
   and I hope for his word.

6 My soul looks for the Lord
   more than sentinels for daybreak.d
   More than sentinels for daybreak,

7 let Israel hope in the LORD,
   For with the LORD is mercy,
   with him is plenteous redemption,

8 And he will redeem Israel
   from all its sins.

In deep sorrow the psalmist cries to God. Deep anguish makes the psalmist feel “like those descending to the pit.” (Psalm 130:1–2)

He asks for mercy for the sins committed. The experience of God’s mercy leads one to a greater sense of God. (Psalm 130:3–4).

The psalmist’s trust ((Psalm 130:5–6) becomes a model for the people ((Psalm 130:7–8).

This is the Latin version of the Septuagint text:
[Canticum graduum]
De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;

Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meæ.

Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine,
Domine, quis sustinebit?

Quia apud te propitiatio est;
et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.

Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem,

speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia,
et copiosa apud eum redemptio.

Et ipse redimet Israël
ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

I searched for a listenable video clip of De Profundis. A few days ago a video clip 5′ 5” long on YouTube titled “De Profundis (Septuagesima Sunday, Tract)” uploaded by SGeorgeAZ on Jul 13, 2011 impressed me.

This video in addition to the music has Gregorian chant notation from the Liber Usualis (1961), p. 499 and Latin lyrics sung by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.

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