Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Sunday, August 8, 2021(Day 64)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 64 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Hear, God, my voice in my plea.
From fear of the enemy guard my life.
Conceal me from the counsel of evil men,
from the hubbub of the wrongdoers,
who whetted their tongue like a sword,
pulled back their arrow—the bitter word—
to shoot in concealment the innocent,
in a flash shot him down without fear.

An Opening Word
A friend of mine is a lawyer with the Innocent Project, trying to free innocent men and women from incarceration, often after serving long life changing undeserved sentences. It’s easy to think “Psalms were written a long time ago, and maybe they aren’t relevant anymore,” but that image of the “bitter word” being the bow-and-arrow of verbal combat strike a chord in the context of the innocent who are marked guilty. We can remake the world with our words, and if that remaking is done by “the enemy… evil men… wrongdoers” then many innocent suffer. Whether in court on the 4th grader’s playground, or in the my-word-against-theirs battles of reputation in the workplace, there is real-world fear, and today there is someone out there praying Psalm 64’s, “Hear, God, my voice in my plea.”

Today’s mystic Phoebe Palmer was part of the Methodist church and the Holiness movement. After her death her writings fell into obscurity, but more recently, scholars have revived her revival sermons, naming her among the important nineteenth century theologians. She was born one of 16 children in a pious household where there were one hour devotional times in the morning and evening (that’s how it is at your house, too, right?). She found her soulmate and partner in her early twenties. Her biographer Elaine Heath points out that this kind egalitarian marriage was unique at the time, when the “cult of domesticity” in the wake of industrialization meant that hierarchical marriages were the norm. Together they had 6 children, but her first two children died in infancy, and her third child died in a crib fire. Devastated, but deeply attuned with the presence of God in her grief, she decided it was time to dedicate her life to preaching the gospel. Her biographer writes that her husband a physician, stayed behind to watch their three children, becoming known as “Mr. Phoebe Palmer” (again projecting these unparalleled-at-the-time anti-patriarchy sentiments), while she preached across the United States and Canada, and then a 4 year preaching stint in England (when traveling overseas meant months of travel by sea, instead of a quick jaunt across the Atlantic by plane). Knowing her own grief in mothering, and the ways in which hope is hard on the brink of loss, her prayer below seems one for any of us seeking God as we face an uncertain future.

Prayer from the Mystics: Phoebe Palmer (1807–1874)
Glory be to God
that I have this day
been enabled to resolve
to follow the faith of Abraham,
who, against hope, believed in hope.

August 8, 2021

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