Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Friday, July 2, 2021 (Day 32)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 32 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Be not like a horse,
a mule, without sense,
the bit and the reins his adornment—
to keep him from drawing near you.
Many are the wicked’s pains,
but who trusts in the Lord
kindness surrounds them.
Rejoice in the Lord and exult,
O you righteous,
sing gladly, all upright ones!

An Opening Word
Scholars believe that this Psalm was a song. Yes many Psalms are songs, but this one even more so. And the horse/mule, bit/reins metaphor would make for an odd but memorable song lyric.

The horse metaphor is true-to-life. As fight-or-flight animals, (wild) horses can injure both humans and fellow horses, pawing when frustrated, stamping when feeling threatened, snapping their jaws, exposing their teeth, flaring their nostrils, pinning their ears back against their neck. The bit and reins restrain and domesticate horses, making us forget that the horse left on its own, is truly a wild animal (and here, the metaphor is extended to mean that the wicked/senseless are akin to wild animals).

By contrast God is one to whom we might draw near in a trustworthy way, because in the presence of God, we will be surrounded by kindness. All this is as the Psalmist says, something to sing about. “All you righteous, sing gladly!”

Today’s mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp is a bit of a mystery. She was from the 13th century but we don’t know the year of her birth or death. Her manuscripts are all we know of her: they were collected by a friend but then lost after his death. They were not rediscovered until medieval scholar Maurice Maeterlinck found them in 1838, and even then were not published as a collection until 1920.

Hadewijch was part of the early Gothic period or what you might call medieval Europe. She was believed to be Flemish, from Antwerp, and due to her style of writing, use of many languages (fluently shifting between Latin, French, and Dutch), and even her tone of authority, most scholars believe she was from a noble background, educated, and exposed to classical theologians like Augustine and biblical scholarship, all of which appear in her writings.

In one letter she describes her relationship with God like this:

“Since I was ten years old I have been so overwhelmed by intense love that I should have died, during the first two years when I began this, if God had not given me other forms of strength than people ordinarily receive, and if he had not renewed my nature with God’s own Being… God, my Love, imparted to me in so many ways at the beginning of my life, gave me such confidence in Godself that ever since that time it has usually been in my mind that no one loved God so intensely as I.”

From this, and from her prayer below, you can tell she had a deep experience of the presence of God from an early age, and experienced God as love, or even called God by just the name “Love,” an intimacy with God that may feel foreign to us, or maybe for some, feels exactly like what we mean when we say the word “God.”

Prayer from the Mystics: Hadewijch of Antwerp (13th Century)
O my love!
Fix all your thought
on the Love of God
who created you.
Commend all your being to Love;
So shall you heal all torments and pains,
and you shall fear nothing,
and shall not flee from adversity in anything.
You should trust to Love.

July 2, 2021

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