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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 10

Written by David Meara, posted on Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Edmund NeweyIn these extraordinary times, as our nation and our world face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus epidemic, our first task is naturally to support and enable the efforts of frontline staff tackling the disease and supporting those who have fallen ill. As we engage in every way we can with their work, we as Christians turn for guidance to God, in whom we have our origin and our end.

Here at Christ Church the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible, as it is sometimes called – sustains our daily worship, now as always. Public worship is no longer an option, but the cathedral clergy here are maintaining the daily round of prayer and warmly encourage you to share in the spiritual communion that prayer makes possible across all boundaries of time and space.

At the core of this work of prayer the psalms voice the cry of our hearts to God. With this in mind the ministry team here is sharing one psalm each day with an accompanying reflection. Recalling the University of Oxford’s motto, Dominus illuminatio mea – ‘The Lord is my light’ – we pray that, together, we may know God’s strength, encouragement and blessing in this time of need.

‘The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

Woman sitting head in handsPsalm 102

Hear my prayer, O Lord *
and let my crying come unto thee.
Hide not thy face from me in the time of my trouble *
incline thine ear unto me when I call;
O hear me, and that right soon. For my days are consumed away like smoke *
and my bones are burnt up as it were a fire-brand.
My heart is smitten down, and withered like grass *
so that I forget to eat my bread. For the voice of my groaning *
my bones will scarce cleave to my flesh.
I am become like a pelican in the wilderness *
and like an owl that is in the desert.
I have watched, and am even as it were a sparrow *
that sitteth alone upon the house-top.
Mine enemies revile me all the day long *
and they that are mad upon me are sworn together against me.
For I have eaten ashes as it were bread *
and mingled my drink with weeping;
And that because of thine indignation and wrath * f
or thou hast taken me up, and cast me down.
My days are gone like a shadow *
and I am withered like grass.
But, thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever *
and thy remembrance throughout all generations.
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion *
for it is time that thou have mercy upon her, yea, the time is come.
And why? thy servants think upon her stones *
and it pitieth them to see her in the dust.
The heathen shall fear thy Name, O Lord *
and all the kings of the earth thy Majesty;
When the Lord shall build up Sion *
and when his glory shall appear;
When he turneth him unto the prayer of the poor destitute *
and despiseth not their desire.
This shall be written for those that come after *
and the people which shall be born shall praise the Lord.
For he hath looked down from his sanctuary *
out of the heaven did the Lord behold the earth;
That he might hear the mournings of such as are in captivity *
and deliver the children appointed unto death;
That they may declare the Name of the Lord in Sion *
and his worship at Jerusalem;
When the people are gathered together *
and the kingdoms also, to serve the Lord.
He brought down my strength in my journey *
and shortened my days.
But I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of mine age *
as for thy years, they endure throughout all generations.
Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth *
and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
They shall perish, but thou shalt endure *
they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed *
but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
The children of thy servants shall continue *
and their seed shall stand fast in thy sight.

This psalm is a psalm of protest, and is of great psychological depth, as it moves from a narrow individualism and isolation to a discovery of meaning gained by placing the psalmist’s own experience within a wider context. The psalm begins in fearful isolation, reflected in its superscription – ‘A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord.’ After the graphic description of the psalmist’s situation which reflects his sense of being an unclean person, isolated from the community, the psalmist cries out in protest against God (v 10), and is full of self pity (v 11).

But then he begins to set his own situation in a wider context (v 12-22), looking outwards to his people, and recognising that what is happening to him is mirrored within the wider community. This wider perspective collapses in verse 23, and again he reverts to self-pitying isolation. But he recovers his balance with a dignified reflection on the contrast between a sense of individual transitoriness and the eternity of God (v 26), which finally enables the psalmist to set his own situation within the cosmic context of the permanency of God: You, O God, remain, even if I do not, and because you remain our children will be safe.

David Meara