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The Lord our Light: Praying together with the Psalms 4

Written by David Meara, posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Canon 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)

Canon Edmund Newey, Sub Dean

Psalm 8 

O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world * 
 thou that has set thy glory above the heavens! 
  Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies * 
 that thou mightest still the enemy, and the avenger. 
  For I will consider thy heavens, even the works of thy fingers * 
 the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained. 
  What is man, that thou art mindful of him * 
 and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 
  Thou madest him lower than the angels * 
 to crown him with glory and worship. 
  Thou makest him to have dominion of the works of thy hands * 
 and thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet; 
  All sheep and oxen * 
 yea, and the beasts of the field; 
  The fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea * 
 and whatsoever walketh through the paths of the seas. 
  O Lord our Governor * 
 how excellent is thy Name in all the world! 

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise to God the Creator. The writer marvels at the wonder of God’s works, perhaps remembering an experience of gazing up at the night sky and seeing the moon and the stars hanging in brilliance above him. In a time when there was almost no light or atmospheric pollution they would have appeared crystal clear, a source of wonder and mystery.

The psalmist marvels that it only took God’s fingers ( v3) to set the stars in place, so much greater is the Creator than his creation.  In the light of the divine perspective, how insignificant we are, and yet in spite of our frailty and insignificance, God is “mindful” of us, God has created us, and God cares for us.

What moves the psalmist is not merely the wonder of the night sky, but the concern which the Creator has for humankind, and not just humankind in the mass, but for each individual human being. This question, “What is mortal man that you should care for him?”, is the axis around which the whole psalm orbits.

The answer comes in the next verse (v 5). Human beings are little lower than God, and crowned with glory and honour. God values human beings in the order of creation and has called them to participate in God’s work of ordering, shaping, and stewarding life on planet earth. The poetry of the psalm plays with bodily imagery and celebrates the animal kingdom in relationship to human community. Above all, the psalm sets its picture of nature and humanity within a framework of the praise of Almighty God. 

David Meara