Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Saturday, August 7, 2021 (Day 63)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 63 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
God, my God, for You I search.
My throat thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You
in a land waste and parched,
with no water.
So, in the sanctum I beheld You,
seeing Your strength and Your glory.
For your kindness is better than life.
My lips praise You.
Thus I bless You while I live, in Your name I lift up my palms.
As with ripest repast my being is sated,
and with lips of glad song my mouth declares praise.
Yes, I recalled You on my couch.
In the night-watches I dwelled upon You.
For You were help to me,
and in Your wings’ shadow I uttered glad song.
My being clings to You,
for Your right hand has sustained me.
But they for disaster have sought my life
—may they plunge to the depths of the earth.
May their blood be shed by the sword,
may they be served up to the foxes.
But the king will rejoice in God,
all who swear by him will revel,
for the mouth of the liars is muzzled.

An Opening Word
Psalm 62 holds a thread carried first by Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This Psalmist’s thirst and yearning seems real, lived, alive. I’m interested in the line “In the sanctum I beheld you.” Robert Alter suggests it is possibly the Psalmist’s memory, remembering a time when they were in a holy place, encountering God. In my mind, I hear some inner sanctum being made right there within the suffering. It is as if the Psalmist creates within their parched body, a holy sanctuary, a place of prayer where the thirsty-one might find relief. Have you ever been in that kind of prolonged pain, where the end is in sight but is still far enough off that you have to find some alternative internal rest? A place in your mind or heart where relief is possible?

I love the Psalmist’s response to struggle that seems to acknowledge the deep pain and need for God’s real help, now! And, at the same time, an interwoven praise and witness to God’s intervention. There is such a deep longing in this Psalm, one that cries out to God, and then affirms God as help, sustenance, satiation. And, the Psalmist holds off until the end to use any of the “curse your enemy” language that I am always tempted to skip (though there is something creatively evocative about the enemies being “served up to the foxes”).

Today’s mystic is not actually a person, but a text. It is called “The Way of the Pilgrim” and was published for the first time in 1881 in Russian under the title “Intimate Conversations of a Pilgrim with his Spiritual Father.” Scholars do not know who wrote this text, but it is written in the first person by a pilgrim or wanderer, in Russian known as a “strannik.” From the medieval era until the Russian revolution, strannik was a common occupation, walking from village to village, often staying at the local monastery for a few nights before moving on to another city. This particular pilgrim is spiritually in search of answers to the question, “How do I pray without ceasing?” After going city to city, visiting the best preachers in Russian churches, the pilgrim decides they will have to find answers elsewhere because the preachers never give good enough advice (as someone who preaches on occasion, I’ll try not to take offense!). The book outlines the pilgrim’s spiritual seeking and offers a way for any of us to pray without ceasing. The text was not translated into English until 1930, but in 1961, the book saw an uptick in interest because J. D. Salinger wrote “Franny and Zooey,” whose character Zooey is obsessed with “The Way of the Pilgrim.” Maybe you’ve even come across it?

Prayer from the Mystics: The Way of the Pilgrim (1881)
The bible says: “pray without ceasing”.
This saying struck me, and I began to wonder:
how is it possible to pray without ceasing
when everyone must attend to endless matters
simply by living?

August 7, 2021

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