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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 36

Written by Edmund Newey, posted on Friday, May 8, 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

Hands held open in supplicationPsalm 67

  God be merciful unto us, and bless us *
 and shew us the light of his countenance, and be merciful unto us;
  That thy way may be known upon earth *
 thy saving health among all nations.
  Let the people praise thee, O God *
 yea, let all the people praise thee.
  O let the nations rejoice and be glad *
 for thou shalt judge the folk righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.
  Let the people praise thee, O God *
 let all the people praise thee.
  Then shall the earth bring forth her increase *
 and God, even our own God, shall give us his blessing.
  God shall bless us *
 and all the ends of the world shall fear him.

In the Radio 4 panel game, Just a Minute, contestants must speak on a given subject without hesitation, deviation or repetition. The psalms rarely manage this and that is one of their glories.

Psalm 67 is particularly prone to breaking the ban on repetition. The first verse, for instance, says the same two things twice; and for the first of them it doesn’t even reach for a different turn of phrase, simply reiterating: ‘God be merciful to us’.

Children do this too. Their words – rhymes, cries of joy, jokes, songs –have a quasi-liturgical quality, rehearsing, often to the point of adult exasperation, what matters to them most, however trivial it may seem to their elders.

Does God feel exasperation at our repetitions in worship and prayer? I suspect not: they are no less welcome than a couple’s daily reiteration of their love for one another. God rejoices whenever we turn our faces upwards, letting our countenances be bathed in the light of the divine countenance:

Let the people praise thee, O God *
 yea, let all the people praise thee.