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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 34

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Wednesday, May 6, 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

Pair of boots on rocky outcropPsalm 84

O how amiable are thy dwellings *  thou Lord of hosts!

2  My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord *  my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

3  Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young *  even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

4  Blessed are they that dwell in thy house *  they will be alway praising thee.

5  Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee *  in whose heart are thy ways.

6  Who going through the vale of misery use it for a well *  and the pools are filled with water.

7  They will go from strength to strength *  and unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Sion.

8  O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer *  hearken, O God of Jacob.

9  Behold, O God our defender *  and look upon the face of thine Anointed. 

10  For one day in thy courts *  is better than a thousand.

11  I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God *  than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness.

12  For the Lord God is a light and defence *  the Lord will give grace and worship, and no good thing shall he withhold from them that live a godly life.

13  O Lord God of hosts *  blessed is the man that putteth his trust in thee. 

In his commentary on the Psalter, John Eaton gives each psalm a title: Psalm 84’s is ‘Travelling to God’. It’s a bold claim for anyone to make, but it fits this psalm of pilgrimage perfectly. 

These verses sing of the pilgrim’s joy at arriving. Where does he arrive? In the holy city of Jerusalem, of course; but more importantly in God’s greater house, the cosmos itself. Recognising that in the words of another psalm ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is’, he has travelled to God and arrived.  

True pilgrimage always teaches that the journey’s end is not just a particular place, but a proper understanding of our place in the world. Here the psalmist sings with delight, discovering afresh the loveliness of creation and the place of dignity each of us enjoys within it as a child of God.  

Truly God’s ‘dwellings’ are everywhere: even the most overlooked and despised places, even the people we find most challenging, even we ourselves, are ‘amiable’ – lovely and beloved – when illuminated by God who is ‘a light and defence’, the giver of ‘grace and worship’. 

Edmund Newey