I Had Rather One Day in Your Courts

The responsorial psalm for today’s Mass is from Psalm 84, a psalm described by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr as a pilgrim song.

In the most powerful lines for me in that psalm, the psalmist shares, “I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

When I read those words this morning, I was reminded of Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem Psalm. It harkens back to a different psalm but conveys the same longing and desire expressed in today’s psalm. The poem always touches me. Perhaps it will touch you also.

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn’t forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today’s
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning’s clouds in the first light.

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The Lord is My Pacesetter

After two days where I felt like every appointment I had started 15 minutes before the prior one ended, a two-day period where I was trying to cram in several more days of work, what came to mind this morning was Japanese poet Toki Miyashina’s version of Psalm 23. Here it it:

The Lord is my Pace Setter, I shall not rush,
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals,
He provides me with images of stillness,
Which restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency,
through calmness of mind; and his guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day,
I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity,
by anointing my head with his oils of tranquility,
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruit of my hours,
For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord,
and dwell in his house for ever.

However busy you are this day, remember to pause now and then. Be still. Breathe. Remember whose you are and who is with you.

Who Am I That You Are Mindful of Me?

This morning I picked up Psalm 8 for my morning prayer. The central part of the Psalm asks a question that I think is held deep in all of our hearts:

What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them rule over the works of your hands, put all things at their feet:
All sheep and oxen, even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas.

What are humans that you are mindful of them. Or, as I formulated the question in my prayer this morning: Who am I that you are mindful of me?

I asked the question several times, until the question faded and all I felt was the near presence of God. Not God up and out somewhere, but God right in my face and surrounding me completely. I simply sat in that presence and every time I started to ask the question again, I could get no further than a word or two before the question disappeared. Near the end of my time sitting, the image that came to mind was of being knit together with God, with the deepened realization that I am so intimately connected to God that God can’t not be mindful of me.

Who are you that God is mindful of you? It is a good question to sit with.

I Shall Dwell in the House of the Lord

The Responsorial Psalm for today’s Mass is excerpted from Psalm 27, one of those that always brings me comfort.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?

Do not be afraid, says the Angel Gabriel to Mary. Do not be afraid, says Jesus to his disciples. In moments when I experience fear, this is the line that comes almost unbidden to my mind. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? Saying the words – even just hearing them in my mind – is enough to calm me, to strengthen me. We need fear no one and nothing.

One thing I ask of the Lord
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord
and contemplate his temple.

In the law we say of certain things res ispa loquitor – the thing speaks for itself. So it is with this line. It speaks for itself; it says it all, in conveying in such simple terms our aspiration – to be in full union with our God.

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.

Whatever reason the Psalmist had for his security, we are an Easter people. For Christians, it is Jesus death, resurrection, followed by his ascension and sending of the Spirit, that allows us to assert with absolute confidence that we shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. That allows us to wait with courge, able to face whatever difficulties come our way.

I love this Psalm. I hear the words – I feel them – and they bring me strength and peace.

Pray the words today. Feel them. And be strengthened by them.

The God of Jacob

Many of us love praying with the Psalms. There seems to be something there to catch whatever emotion we might be feeling, whatever deep desire we want to express.

I read a commentary from the Luther Seminary site recently on Psalm 46 that I thought worth sharing, as Psalm 46 is an old favorite of many. It proclaims our refuge in God: because of God “we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea.”

Each of the three parts of the psalm end with the lines: The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob. I confess that when I read that psalm I don’t really think about what it means to say our stronghold is the God of Jacob. Here is what the commentary observes:

The God of a cheating scoundrel is our refuge! Jacob was a cheating scoundrel; the kind of person you would not want to have a financial relationship with. Jacob had cheated his brother and his uncle. Both men vowed to get their revenge on the cheat, Jacob. God, however, would not let that happen. God quelled the fierce anger of Laban, Jacob’s uncle, and Esau, Jacob’s brother, welcomed him in peace.

The good news today is that God indeed is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. We may call upon God when we are in any kind of trouble, even when we are the ones who have caused our own trouble. The God of a cheating scoundrel is our refuge. Do not fear, fellow sinner. God is your refuge, too.

God is our refuge. Not only the refuge of the strong, the holy, the faithful. The refuge of all of us. The God of Jacob is there for us always.

All This Overwhelms Me

I am at St. Benedict’s Monastery this weeekend for the 20th Anniversary celebration of Studium, the Monastery’s visiting scholar’s program. As regular readers of this blog know,I have benefitted much from several stays at the Monastery over the past few years; the ora et labora rhythm of Benedictine monastic life provides a wonderful environment for my writing.

Because yesterday was the burial day of one of the Sisters who died, the sisters prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the Dead during their communal prayer periods. During evening prayer, one of the psalms we prayed was Psalm 139, a psalm I frequently use in my own prayer and recommend to others.

I’ve prayed with many translations of Psalm 139. What struck me powerfully last evening in the translation that is part of the Evening Prayer for the Dead was verse 6: speaking of his realization that “before a word slips from my tongue, Lord, you know what I will say. Yoou close in on me pressing your hand upon me,” the psalmist admits, “All this overwhelms me–too much to understand.”

Why this particular translation struck me more than other versions of that verse I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it is because it conveys the psalmist’s reaction in such plan, simple terms and it is a reaction I identify with.

If we take the realization of the psalmist to heart – if we really realized the enormity of God’s love and God’s constant presence, I think we share that reaction – it is overwhelming…really too much to understand.

In any translation, Psalm 139 is a beautiful psalm. It is worth spending some time praying with this God from whose love we cannot escape.