Psalm 16: The Refuge of My Soul

Update 10/6/20: Sheet music for this song can be downloaded here.

Psalm 16 is the next in my Adopt-a-Psalm settings. I took a unique approach on this one. At first glance, it may seem like the song has little to do with the Psalm. It uses none of the “protect me, God” or “path of life” phrases that other settings of this Psalm use. Instead, it goes a layer deeper, into the Psalm’s structure.

Samuel Terrien proposes that Psalm 16 is made up of 6 strophes, with the first three mirroring the last three. In broad strokes, the Psalm begins its focus on things of earth and moves toward heaven. As I meditated on the Psalm it suddenly struck me that it closely follows the span of human life. It is very clear in the last two strophes, which focus on the grave and eternal life. Working your way backward you can see further life milestones: the growth of wisdom (strophe 4) and earthly blessings (strophe 3). The first two strophes are less clear, but with a bit of imagination, I recast the first strophe’s protection and refuge as the womb and the sacrifices to false gods in strophe two as the sins of youth. It’s easier to understand when you see the Psalm and my song side by side as in this PDF.

Once I decided the lyrics would be a life-spanning prayer, I knew I needed a folk melody that could hold all the different emotions. Something with a classic contour and perhaps a Celtic color. The melody came out quickly. I channeled my inner Irish balladeer and wrote a tune reminiscent of “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,” John Bell’s “O Lord, Our Lord,” or “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” In fact, it uses the same hexatonic scale as “Be Thou My Vision.”

Try it out for yourself or just take a listen: MP3 (see link above for sheet music)

In the waters of the womb;
In the first breath my lungs drew;
even there I knew
the refuge of my soul.

Please forgive the wasted years
I spent chasing empty dreams
That could never be
The refuge of my soul.

Still, you kept me in your care,
Granted blessings undeserved,
But I treasure most
The refuge of my soul.

As years passed and wisdom grew
My best thoughts were still of you
In the quiet of night
The refuge of my soul.

In the cool air of the tomb
Even there I rest in you.
Still my life, my all,
The refuge of my soul.

And as life begins once more
And I’m filled with joys unknown,
Through eternity
The refuge of my soul.

You will always be
the refuge of my soul.

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