Psalm 39 (Psalms on the Trail)

For I am a passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears. Psalm 39:12


“For I am your passing guest,

an alien,

                              like all my forebears.”                                

Psalm 39:12

The traditional meaning of a pilgrim is one who travels to a holy place, usually by walking.  That means a pilgrim must travel light and carries only bare necessities, and, when that isn’t enough, a pilgrim relies on the hospitality of strangers.  The pilgrim often leaves a blessing behind, a good word, for those who have received her.  A hiker in the forest, pilgrim or otherwise, should “leave no trace”  and refrain from disturbing the creatures who live there. All of this traveling light and leaving no trace except for a blessing is part of the spiritual practice of pilgrimage and a metaphor of life.   If you read the whole psalm, however, you will find the psalmist was frustrated at being a “passing guest” in this life and the shortness of our time on earth.  Perhaps life’s brevity is also something that confronts a pilgrim.  I sit on a place where all that remains of a busy lock and the lock keepers home is a few stones and a towering ancient maple tree that the lock keeper probably planted.  But, unlike the psalm’s writer,  I so far have discovered the practice of being a “passing guest” a positive one.  It is fertile ground for growing humility and gratitude for the value of this life and the One who gives it.


1. Take this verse with you and ponder its meaning for you throughout the day.  What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  If you could go on a literal walking pilgrimage to a holy place or place of significance, where would you go and why?  When have you felt like a passing guest?

2. Or read all of Psalm 39 to discover how this verse fits into the psalm or to discover a different verse.

3. Or comment with a photo of your own that illustrates this verse’s meaning for you.

Tomorrow’s verse is from Psalm 40:3.

Starting January 1, 2016, for 150 days I am posting a daily psalm verse with a photo that is a visual meditation on the text for me.  Each day a verse from the next psalm is chosen until all 150 psalms have been featured.   To participate you may subscribe to my blog at or “friend” me on Facebook and watch for the daily links to blog posts.  Disclaimer:  I am not a photographer and most of the photos are from a cell phone or small camera while hiking the Appalachian Trail or the C&O Canal/Great Allegheny Passage Trail.