Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Friday, June 18, 2021 (Day 18)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 18 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
I am impassioned of You, Lord, my strength!
The Lord is my crag and my bastion,
and my deliverer, my God,
my rock where I shelter,
my shield and the horn of my rescue,
my fortress…
In my strait I called to the Lord,
to my God I cried out.
The Lord heard from God’s palace my voice,
and my outcry before the Lord came to God’s ears.

An Opening Word
Psalm 18 is fairly lengthy but is worth a read all the way through. In the middle is an amazing anthropomorphic God who breathes fire, an almost dragon-like divine figure who is glowing with heat like an erupting volcano. The end has the Psalmist catching and smashing enemies. It’s mythic (literally rooted in ancient Canaanite myths). For example about verse 11, Robert Alter says “The cherub is a fierce winged beast, the charger ridden by the sky god in Canaanite mythology (not the dimpled darling of Renaissance painting).”

This beginning portion is tender (with the perpetual message of the psalms: I called…the Lord heard) and has this rock/crag/bastion/shield imagery that seems to match the tone of Teresa of Avila’s prayer, especially “God only is changeless.” At least something about the rock metaphor gives me a sense of God’s changelessness (though thinking geologically instead of theologically, rocks are certainly not changeless on a geologic time scale measured in eons).

Teresa of Avila is considered one of the great Christian mystics. She was born in Spain in the sixteenth century (born just after Michelangelo completed the Sistine Chapel, and two years before Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, if that helps place her in Christian history). She became a nun when she was 21 against her father’s wishes. She spent many years in what she called a half-hearted spiritual journey, saying she “voyaged on this tempestuous sea” without direct encounters with God, until one day she came across an image of the wounded Christ, wherein she unexpectedly and intensely experienced the presence of God. That inbreaking of the Holy Spirit pushed her to a new season of prayer, contemplation, austerity, and subsequently led others in that same direction. She was a natural leader and started a new monastic movement forming more than a dozen new monasteries, and partnering with St. John of the Cross who reformed the men’s monastic movements, while she reformed the women’s. She insisted on poverty, with her institutions sustained by public alms instead of an endowment, a controversial move that led to fissures. One of her most influential writings is called “The Interior Castle,” still read today. Almost 400 years after her death, she was given an honorary doctorate by the Catholic Church recognizing her theological contributions, the first woman to be named “Doctor of the Church.”

Prayer from the Mystics: Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
(Lines written on a bookmark
Found in her prayerbook)

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.

June 18, 2021

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