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The Lord our Light: Praying together with the Psalms 2

Written by Canon Dr Edmund Newey, posted on Monday, March 23, 2020

In 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)

Canon Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Psalm 121

1      I lift up my eyes to the hills; *

       from where is my help to come?

2     My help comes from the Lord, *

       the maker of heaven and earth.

3     He will not suffer your foot to stumble; *

       he who watches over you will not sleep.

4     Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *

       shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5     The Lord himself watches over you; *

       the Lord is your shade at your right hand,

6     So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *

       neither the moon by night.

7     The Lord shall keep you from all evil; *

       it is he who shall keep your soul.

8     The Lord shall keep watch over your going out

         and your coming in, *

       from this time forth for evermore.


In the tiny church of St Olaf, Wasdale Head in the Lake District there is a window inscribed with the first verse of this psalm in Coverdale’s translation: ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my strength’.  The window overlooks the slopes of Great Gable, the birthplace of English rock-climbing, and the conjunction of text and context seems perfect.   

Unfortunately, this is another example of our perennial tendency to isolate a verse of scripture and change its meaning to suit our purposes.  Modern translations make the sense clearer by a carefully placed question mark.  Solidly dependable though they may seem to be, the hills themselves are not the source of our help; that is God alone.

The psalm begins in the first person, but switches in the last six verses to the third person.  Is this a form of liturgical dialogue, perhaps between a worshipper professing faith and a priest pronouncing God’s blessing?  Whatever its origins, this is a psalm of trust and assurance.  Over the centuries it has spoken powerfully to people at times of transition: setting off on journeys, moving home, leaving school.  And now, at a time of global uncertainty, it is a song for God’s pilgrim people, seeking strength as they fare forward on the path of faith.

Edmund Newey