Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Saturday, June 12, 2021 (Day 12)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 12 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Rescue, O Lord! For the faithful is gone,
For vanished is trust from all generations.
Falsehood everyone speaks to one another,
Smooth talk, with two hearts they speak.
The Lord will cut off all smooth-talking lips,
The tongues that speak of big things,
Those who said, “Let us make our tongue great,
Our own lips are with us—who is master to us?”

An Opening Word
I love that this psalm talks about trust and its disappearance. It is a reminder that every generation—even thousands of years ago—have experienced the vanquishing of trust, the cascade of falsehoods, the microphones handed to the smooth talkers. When we feel that in our own world, we can remember: we are not alone. Other generations too have called on God, have prayed, “Rescue, O Lord!” (Though, what of the psalmist asking God to cut off the lips of all smooth-talkers? Sometimes our prayers—ancient and contemporary—go off the rails.)

Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk from the Abbey of Gesthemanie near Bardstown, Kentucky, also struggled with what to say, when to say, and if to say anything at all. He was a big enough name in the late 1960s that, when several magazines asked him to write something on the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy he refused, questioning what he found to be an unending cycle of violence so deep that he felt “ritual expressions of sorrow, horror, astonishment, etc. have just become part of a general routine. At such a time perhaps silence is more decent.” No smooth-talk, no perfectly phrased words of sentiment, no fine tuned attempt at naming the “sorrow, horror, astonishment” could undo the violence, nor (in his estimation) stop more from happening.

That’s what you get with Thomas Merton though. Honesty about the raw feelings of life, whether some inherent nihilism about his deep hope for changing the world, or some uncertainty about what might be next. That’s what I love about his prayer below. I like that he admits he’s lost. I like that he questions. I like that he circles between struggle and hope. It is very psalm-like in that way.

Prayer from the Mystics: Thomas Merton (1915–1968)
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end,
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

June 12, 2021

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