Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Tuesday, August 3, 2021 (Day 59)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 59 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Save me from my enemies, my God,
over those who rise against me make me safe.

Save me from the wrongdoers,
and from men of bloodshed rescue me…

They come back at evening, they mutter like dogs.
They prowl around the town…

My steadfast God will come to meet me,
God will grant me sight of my foes’ defeat…

For You were a fortress for me,
a haven when I was in straits.

My Strength, to You I would hymn,
for God is my fortress, my steadfast God.

An Opening Word
Psalm 54 through 59 are all Psalms of Lament, with complaint and petition to God as the core content. In Psalm 59, we get that same desire for God to save the Psalmist from their enemies. My favorite verse here is about how they “come back at evening” and “mutter like dogs,” prowling. Having seen way too many movies with well defined “good guys” and “bad guys” I can easily picture the “bad guys” out prowling. It is almost a trope, a literary exaggeration, and yet, I can only imagine that, in a season of true danger, there is just enough truth to word “prowl” in relation to one’s enemies.

Like other Psalms (think Psalm 23, for example), this one oscillates between second person and third person language about God. There at the end, there is praise directed relationally toward God, saying, “You were a fortress for me, a haven.” But it goes back to third person, as if the Psalmist is reporting about God instead of talking to God, saying “God is my fortress, my steadfast God.” Psalms are at once statements of faith and prayers to God.

Today’s mystic is Ephraim the Syrian, a fourth century church father and poet. His collected writings are almost exclusively in hymn-form, written in Syriac, narrating the long arch of God’s salvation found across the biblical witness. One hymn starts with Adam, Noah, David, and onto Jesus’ birth. Another one begins with the birth narrative of Christ, poetically hovering around the moment where God’s incarnate love becomes reality. Another hymn goes through the gospel stories telling of Jesus’ miracles, healing stories, and death and resurrection. I love the prayer below, again in poetic form, that has these rich metaphors for Jesus, all gathered up from the gospels: shepherd, vineshoot, master builder.

Prayer from the Mystics: Ephraim the Syrian (306–373)
Blessed be the Shepherd
who became the sheep for our absolution,
Blessed be the Vineshoot
that became the cup of our salvation,
Blessed be the Cluster,
the source of the medicine of life,
Blessed be the Ploughman
who himself became the grain of wheat that was sown,
Blessed be the Master Builder
who became a tower for our refuge,
Blessed be the one
who himself constructed the senses of our minds
so that we might sing on our lyre something
that the mouth of the bird is unable to sing in its melodies,
Blessed be the One
who never needs us to thank him,
yet he became needy for he loves us
and he thirsted for us and cherishes us.

August 3, 2021

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