BLESSED ARE THEY WHO DO NOT WALK IN THE COUNSEL OF THE WICKED,
OR STAND IN THE WAY OF SINNERS,
OR SIT IN THE SEAT OF MOCKERS.
BUT THEY DELIGHT IN THE TEACHINGS OF THE LORD,
AND ON HIS TEACHINGS THEY MEDITATE
DAY AND NIGHT.
THEY ARE LIKE TREES PLANTED BY STREAMS OF WATER,
WHICH BEAR FRUIT IN THEIR SEASON
AND THEIR LEAVES DO NOT WITHER –
IN ALL THAT THEY DO THEY PROSPER.
NOT SO THE WICKED!
THEY ARE LIKE CHAFF
THAT THE WIND BLOWS AWAY.
THEREFORE THE WICKED WILL NOT STAND IN JUDGMENT,
NOR SINNERS IN THE ASSEMBLY OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
FOR THE LORD WATCHES OVER THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS,
BUT THE WAY OF THE WICKED WILL PERISH.
Psalm 1 is the introduction, the gateway to all the other psalms. The psalm describes what it means to be truly happy and fulfilled. The source of true happiness – reliance upon the God’s direction, is the major theme of all the psalms that follow.
This psalm makes a sharp distinction between two paths in life. There are the blessings and rewards of following God’s teachings – that one will like a tree planted by streams of water – OR – the choice of being willful (wicked), disregarding God’s teaching and become rootless, dissipated and eventually lost.
The Hebrew word ‘tora’ in the psalm means ‘instruction’ or ‘teaching.’ Psalm 1 is more than simply following legalisms, as system of rewards and punishments. It is a call to be open to hearing, and receiving God’s voice and promptings on a deep and personal level. When we base our decisions, our thoughts and our attitudes on the Inner Teacher’s promptings, we are grounded as the tree is. Persons open to God’s instructions are deeply rooted in an ever-renewing source, symbolized as water. The tree – symbolizing flourishing and productivity is also a source of nourishment as it produces fruit.
I gave the tree a double symbolic meaning by having the leaves become sources of wisdom – in this case, I photocopied the Book of Esther in Hebrew, to shape into leaves. (I received permission from a rabbi that I could use the text in collage, as I was aware that cutting the name of God would be sacrilegious. However the Book of Esther does not contain the name of God, and the idea was given approval.) The tree is now the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and study of the Torah becomes the acceptable form of ‘eating’ from the tree of knowledge. In the second panel of the wicked, these leaves from the tree are scattered – their wisdom dissipated and ignored.
Psalm 1 does not mention a rainbow. However, as the entrance to all of the other psalms, I was thinking of the image of a doorway, or an arch, for the psalm. Arriving at Pendle Hill on July 1st, that afternoon there was a thunder shower, followed by clearing. I saw a rainbow in the sky and took that as a sign I needed to include it in the Psalm. God’s visual promise of mercy and hope in heaven comes down to earth as rain to feed the living waters of the stream.
Choosing a translation of the psalm as my primary source was challenging. Most translations of the original Hebrew read “Happy (or blessed) is he. . .” Historically, as men only were allowed to study Torah, this is an accurate translation but it felt exclusive. I found in the Newly Revised Standard Version (NRSV) a version with the plural ‘they’ which solved my dilemma. As there was a simile between the individual and the flourishing tree, now that the pronoun was pluralized it gave me the idea of situating the tree within an orchard, so it is one of many.
In comparison to the rootedness of the first panel, the second panel of the wicked has no specific orientation by which it could be displayed. It is rootless, spinning around. Additionally, the second panel of the wicked is not a rectangle, rather, it is in shards and pieces of a rectangle trying to fit itself back together. Regarding the disparity of the sizes of the two panels, the majority of the psalm is given to the tree imagery (three lines) while the image of the chaff is given one line. So the unequal weight placed on the first image is adhered to in visual scale.
Finally, the question that came up for me – who are the wicked? - had to be answered. In preparing for this work I had gathered images of ‘wickedness’ – Nazi soldiers, scowling businessmen, and KKK hooded riders. But in the end I realized I couldn’t be the judge of who was wicked or righteous. I was incredibly fortunate to find images of figure sculptures whose sad anonymity and dead postures spoke to me of alienation and lost-ness.
Anyway, by Biblical standards of the Ten Commandments I’ve been wicked. I’ve fornicated, I’ve lied, I’ve blasphemed. As a human being, I straddle both panels, for I have a desire to listen to God’s teachings and I can be incredibly willful. I am not alone in this, of course. We seem to be constantly presented with the choice of being God centered, or self-centered, in our actions and intentions. Psalm 1 calls to us to make a decision, offers us a promise and delivers a warning.