Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (page 1 of 273)

Janaury 20, 2019 — Night in the House of the Lord

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 134

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
   who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
   and bless the Lord.

May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
   bless you from Zion.

More thoughts for meditation

This Psalm is used regularly during compline, the last prayer service of the day in the Divine Office, recited by monks and others just before retiring to bed. It seems to have had a very specific liturgical function in ancient Judaism as well, blessing those who served the “night shift” in the Temple, and calling upon them to offer blessing to the Lord.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says that we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” For a culture that was full of temples and holy places, this phrase would have been very meaningful to his audience. It surely would have meant more to them then it does to us, as it has become more or less equivalent to advocating for certain kinds of sexual behavior. It is too bad that we miss the sublime importance of what Paul is saying, which is that the meeting place between heaven and earth is found no other place then within the person.

Our temple has its own “night watch,” which tends the holy fire within our hearts far away from the attention of our consciousness. Most of the time, we are not aware of what goes on in the depths of our being, but that is where the important stuff happens. Our growth comes out of those depths. The spiritual life is not obvious. It requires trust in things that are unseen. Most of us would admit that we can not see God; it may require some more faith to believe that we do not know the depths of our own being either. However, when considering what has a habit of occupying our conscious awareness, I think that this is actually good news!

The events of life provoke responses that often undermine our sense of ourselves. A chance word heard offhand stimulates a cavalcade of anxiety and shame. The news cycle makes us feel helpless and angry. There is a kind of conversation that we hold with the world around us that is predicated on falsehood and fear. However, beneath our consciousness is a part of us that continues to hold holy conversation with the Lord, blessing and being blessed, even while the rest of us is waylaid by anxiety, depression, shame, and the like.

To quote Father Stephen Freeman: “That which is most obvious is never the full story, either about ourselves or others. Christ invites us into the fullness of His life, to live in union with the full story, no matter how deeply it might be hidden. At the very depth of the soul is a song of unbounded thanksgiving.”

Suggestions for action

Consider the shift in awareness that comes with the night. You may have experienced this if you grew up in the country, or ever spent a night outdoors, but even in the city we can feel it. Things do not stand out so starkly. The events of the day pool together, as the trees and buildings are absorbed into the night sky, preparing the mind for a more integrative vision of ourselves and the world. It is a time that is ripe for reflection. Even in our sleep, the mind continues to process the events of the day.

Listen to the monks of Mt. Saviour chant the night office. They begin with Psalm 91 – “he who dwells in the shelter of the most high…” before moving directly to Psalm 134. They conclude with this prayer, which you might pray as well before you go to bed tonight:

Come down, we beseech You, O Lord, upon this house, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy. Let Your holy angels dwell in it and keep us in peace, and may Your blessing be with us always. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen

So do not despair, and do not “fear the terrors of night.”

January 19, 2019 — The Dew of Hermon

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is
   when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
   running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
   running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
   which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
   life forevermore.

More thoughts for meditation

This Psalm sure does start out strong! The first verse is well-known and widely quoted. It is an encomium to community that has broad, universal appeal, even – maybe especially – in a culture like ours that has seen the steady erosion of community life. It’s hard not to agree with the psalmist – how good indeed when people dwell together in shalom (peace). It is what we were made for.

It kind of takes a wild left turn though when the psalmist starts to think of things to liken the goodness of shalom to. Most of the Psalm is spent describing the oil running down Aaron’s beard and on to his collar. Not exactly an image that everyone can relate to. For one thing, we no longer have a Levitical priesthood performing the traditional ceremonial rites in the temple. But in general, religion in contemporary America is more about ideas than concrete symbols like oil or water. When we do use oil in anointing, a dab is usually sufficient. Aaron is getting the oil poured over his head, so much so that it runs down his beard and onto his robes.

Yet the abundance is precisely the point. Scripture is full of these images of inordinate profligacy, for such is the love of God. “My cup overflows” (Ps. 23:5); “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Lk 6:38); the catch of fish that nearly burst the disciple’s net (Lk 5:6). It reflects the fact that existence itself is something abundant. That we exists at all defies explanation, and in fact calls not for explanation so much as celebration. Being liberal with the oil calls to mind God’s liberality. Shalom, the peace of God that is manifest in human fellowship, is the principal sign of this liberality. Shalom is the oil that has been poured out with reckless abandon by God onto the earth. When we meet each other in love and mutual concern, we anoint one another with that oil.

And yet the psalmist does not stop there. Their vision ranges even further, seeing the same blessing in the falling of dew from Hermon onto the worshippers on Zion. The shalom of human community is deeply connected with the shalom of the whole ecological communion that we live in. We share a common blessing with the whole of creation. And yet that is not the end of it either. At the end of the Psalm, the psalmist even catches a glimpse of the fullness of God’s blessing in everlasting life. It is not an expression not so much of an afterlife of reward (vs. punishment), but of the ultimate, eternal shalom that we are being brought into, us along with the whole of creation.

Suggestions for action

Pray: “Lord, grant that I would see in my sisters and brothers the beginning of Your everlasting peace.”

Listen to a group from Abayudaya, a Jewish community in Uganda, sing a version of the traditional Jewish prayer, Hinei Ma Tov, which recites the first line of this Psalm: “behold how good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.”

January 18, 2019 — Calm and quiet my soul

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 131

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
   my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
   too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
   like a weaned child with its mother;
   my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
   from this time on and forevermore.

More thoughts for meditation

Like Psalms 121 and 123, the psalmist is in a position of repose. However, unlike those Psalms in which the psalmist is appealing to God’s mercy and waiting, in this one the writer feels at rest.

We could easily distort the words of this Psalm to mean that we should mind our manners and learn our place. “Be content with what you have,” is violence when said by someone else who is enjoying all the things that you don’t have. It is yet another kind of violence when you say it to yourself in an effort to deny that you do in fact want the things that you do not have, or want to avoid the responsibility to exercise your natural capacities as a human being.

Being content with what you have is more of a description of a place where we can land, by God’s grace, not a rule that we have to follow. We won’t get rewarded for following it, because contentment itself is the reward. Rather than saying that I have failed to be content, it would be better simply to acknowledge that I am not yet capable of the contentment that God desires my soul to enjoy. That contentment is freedom if it allows me to give up chasing after things that only end up filling me with dread and anxiety.

Notice that the quieted soul is like a weaned child, not a nursing child. Good parenting nourishes the child so that it can grow towards adulthood, not remain a child. The good parenting of God provides us with strength that pushes us toward developing our own strength. It is so that we can become truly free, like the child is free who is able to become an adult. God’s love preserves us in our growth so that we grow in proper proportion. When our inner being is content and feels its worth, the contorting power of sin and fear are lessened. We accept ourselves for who we are. We need neither aggrandize ourselves to try to prove our worth, nor need we diminish ourselves to try to placate those who think us unworthy. Just like the quieted child is able to receive its parents love, so when our soul is content we are able to receive from God the nourishment then enables us to continue to grow to spiritual maturity.

Suggestions for action

Pray: “Lord, quiet my soul, that I might receive the love You have for me.”

Listen to a setting of this Psalm in Latin by the 17th-century German composer, Heinrich Schütz.

 

January 17, 2019 — Find the mountain

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
   Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
   so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
   and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
   For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
   and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
   from all its iniquities.

More thoughts for meditation

The view from the depths is not always good, but it does clarifies our vision by cutting out all the BS that makes for religion. There are a couple of so-called religious ideas that it would be good to discard. The first is that religion is mostly about good behavior. The second is related and is that Christianity has to do with rules that we’ve broken and need to be forgiven for breaking. I’m a rule-follower by nature, and so I find that these ideas are really attractive even if they keep me lost in a cloud of shame and guilt.

A quick story. I got pulled over for driving 70 in a 55. I would argue that the long, straight, flat nature of the road and the fact that I was the only one on the road (besides the cop) permitted me to exercise some discretion in my speed. The State of New Mexico disagreed. Luckily I got off with a warning. That’s the nature of rules: they are artificial and need to be enforced. Later that day I was driving in the Gila Mountains, and realized that no cops were needed in the mountain, because the mountain was the “cop.” Or, rather, the switchbacks and precipitous drops off the side of the road were the cop. There is nothing artificial or coercive about the mountain. Rather, it invites a certain kind of harmony in how we live with it. Living in view of actual, concrete consequences (rather than the artificial consequences of, say, approval/disapproval) is terrifying but also refreshing and vivifying.

God is a mountain, “steadfast in love,” not an autocrat who marks iniquities. The depths of sin from which we cry out to God are not the depths of our legal debts, but the depths of the actual concrete consequences of sin, pain, and loss in our lives. There is no need to imagine we have broken the cosmic speed limit, because the destruction that sin brings into our life is real. Let’s stop adding to that destruction by insisting on imagining that we’ve been bad and therefore need to feel bad so God will love us. Shame is what God wants to save us from, it’s not the thing that God is going to use to fix our behavior.

Pray from wherever you are right now, whatever your situation. Feel the need that you have right now to be restored. And wait, as one waiting for the morning.

Suggestions for action

Pray: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!”

An important part of the church’s liturgy, the De Profundis has been set to music numerous times. Listen to a setting of this Psalm by the contemplative, Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt. Pärt loves to set high and low voices in contrast with one another. In this piece it has the effect of bringing out the grave and plaintive qualities in the prayer.

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine
Domine exaudi vocem meam fiant aures tuae intendentes in vocem deprecationis meae
Si iniquitates observabis Domine Domine quis sustinebit
Quia apud te propitiatio est propter legem tuam sustinui te Domine sustinuit anima mea in verbum eius Speravit anima mea in Domino
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem speret Israhel in Domino
Quia apud Dominum misericordia et copiosa apud eum redemptio
Et ipse redimet Israhel ex omnibus iniquitatibus eius

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