Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Friday, July 30, 2021 (Day 55)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 55 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Hearken, O God, to my prayer,
and do not ignore my plea.
Listen well to me and answer me.
In my complaint I sway and moan.
From the sound of my enemy…
fear and trembling enter me,
and horror envelops me.
And I say,
“Would I had wings like a dove.
I would fly off and find rest.
Look, I would wander far away
and lodge in the wilderness,
would make haste to a refuge for me
from the streaming wind and the storm.”

An Opening Word
Do you remember the scene from the film Forrest Gump, where Forrest’s friend Jenny is a child, and after escaping her abusive father, she runs into the corn field and has Forrest kneel down with her as she prays, “Dear God, Make me a bird, so I can fly far, far, away from here.” Maybe that scene impacted my theology more than I knew, because it came to mind immediately when I read Psalm 55’s words “Would I had wings like a dove, I would fly off and rest.” Was Jenny praying Psalm 55? Was she drenched in these ancient words? She certainly needed God to “make haste to a refuge.” And, if you watch the clip of the film linked above, you’ll notice that, well, Forrest narrates how God doesn’t quite make her a bird, but God does make haste and find refuge, bringing Jenny to her grandmother’s house. Forrest Gump reframes for us how these Psalms come alive in the faces of our friends, in the prayers of those we love, in the real life circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I think today’s mystic prayer from Ignatius of Loyola is the kind of prayer we can only pray after we find our way out of crisis. I can’t imagine the writer of Psalm 55 praying a prayer like this, “Everything is yours; do with it what you will,” until the Psalmist is able to move out of that place of “fear and trembling” toward real refuge. Maybe some of us can pray sacrificial, generous, generative prayers from the deep, the pit, but most of us, first, must catch our breath, find firm footing, and some semblance of balance before we can pray the prayer below.

Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Jesuit order, the Society of Jesus. With his friend and follower St. Francis Xavier, they founded Jesuit monasteries in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, India, Brazil, the Congo, and Ethiopia. He began life in 1491 as part of a wealthy, noble family in Spain. His mother died when he was seven. As he grew up, he became a soldier, and military commander. When an intense battle in Pampalone left his leg severely wounded by a cannonball injury, he underwent surgery and planned on recuperating at his brother’s house. He suffered infections in his wound, and priests were called in to pray the last rites over him, but he began to heal. After that near death experience came the intense boredom of recovery. The only two books in the house, the story goes, was a biography of Jesus and a book about the saints. While he spent some time envisioning life after recovery continuing on as a triumphant soldier or a wealthy nobleman, it was the time envisioning a life of faith, sacrifice and devotion that brought him the most joy. He denounced his wealth, gave up his sword, confessed his sins, pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and then returned to Spain ready to be a spiritual leader.

Prayer from the Mystics: Ignatius of Loyola
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
My memory, my understanding,
And my entire will,
All I have and call my own
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.

July 30, 2021

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