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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 26

Written by Philippa White, posted on Monday, April 27, 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)

Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Lion on rockPsalm 104

PRAISE the Lord, O my soul: O Lord my God, thou art become exceeding glorious; thou art clothed with majesty and honour.

Thou deckest thyself with light as it were with a garment: and spreadest out the heavens like a curtain.

Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: and maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind.

He maketh his angels spirits: and his ministers a flaming fire.

He laid the foundations of the earth: that it never should move at any time.

Thou coveredst it with the deep like as with a garment: the waters stand in the hills.

At thy rebuke they flee: at the voice of thy thunder they are afraid.

They go up as high as the hills, and down to the valleys beneath: even unto the place which thou hast appointed for them.

Thou hast set them their bounds which they shall not pass: neither turn again to cover the earth.

He sendeth the springs into the rivers: which run among the hills.

All beasts of the field drink thereof: and the wild asses quench their thirst.

Beside them shall the fowls of the air have their habitation: and sing among the branches.

He watereth the hills from above: the earth is filled with the fruit of thy works.

He bringeth forth grass for the cattle: and green herb for the service of men;

That he may bring food out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man: and oil to make him a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen man's heart.

The trees of the Lord also are full of sap: even the cedars of Libanus which he hath planted;

Wherein the birds make their nests: and the fir-trees are a dwelling for the stork.

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats: and so are the stony rocks for the conies.

He appointed the moon for certain seasons: and the sun knoweth his going down.

Thou makest darkness that it may be night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do move.

The lions roaring after their prey: do seek their meat from God.

The sun ariseth, and they get them away together: and lay them down in their dens.

Man goeth forth to his work, and to his labour: until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are thy works: in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.

So is the great and wide sea also: wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.

There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan: whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein.

These wait all upon thee: that thou mayest give them meat in due season.

When thou givest it them they gather it: and when thou openest thy hand they are filled with good.

When thou hidest thy face they are troubled: when thou takest away their breath they die, and are turned again to their dust.

When thou lettest thy breath go forth they shall be made: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

The glorious majesty of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

The earth shall tremble at the look of him: if he do but touch the hills, they shall smoke.

I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will praise my God while I have my being.

And so shall my words please him: my joy shall be in the Lord.

As for sinners, they shall be consumed out of the earth, and the ungodly shall come to an end: praise thou the Lord, O my soul, praise the Lord.

This long and beautiful psalm is a reflective song of praise to God the creator and provider: God whose love is manifested in the wonders of creation, God whose power is manifested in the glory of his appearing, God whose mercy is manifested in his tender provision for all that has been made. 

It’s one of the few places in the Bible where we see hints of a creation story that far predates the two that begin the book of Genesis: a story in which God doesn’t create calmly, unopposed, out of a ‘formless void,’ but by taming the dangerous powers of creation. This psalm shows us the God who is beyond human understanding, powerful, glorious, and altogether good. What, to humans, is wild, strange and dangerous is entirely part of God’s domestic sphere. The roaring lions of verse 21 turn out to be God’s housecats, fed by his hand and, once day dawns, curling up in a patch of sunlight in their dens.

Perhaps this is a psalm for those of us who – deprived of ordinary amusements – are spending more time outside: on our state-approved daily walks, runs or cycles, or in our gardens.  It can remind us that the beauty of the created world is for our sake, and that God who clothes the flowers in colour and scent will also supply our needs.

And perhaps it is also a psalm for those of us who are cut off from the outside world, or from other things which sustain us. God, for whom ravenous lions are domestic pets, who dispels the waters of chaos with a stern rebuke, will protect us with his power and sustain us with his love. God, who created the world in all its wild splendor and rugged beauty, has seen far worse than this and borne it all. God will bear our burdens too.

‘Praise thou the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!’

Philippa White