Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Wednesday, August 18, 2021 (Day 74)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 74 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Why, O God, have You abandoned us forever?…
Why do You draw back Your hand,
and Your right hand hold in Your bosom?

Yet God is my king of old,
worker of rescues in the midst of the earth.

You shattered the sea-god with Your strength,
You smashed the monsters’ heads on the waters.
You crushed the Leviathan’s heads,
You gave him as food to the desert folk…

Arise, God, O pleased Your cause…

An Opening Word
Robert Alter says that the “persistence of catastrophe” means that the Psalm was written in the decades after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. when the Babylonians took over, but there are other times when the people of God might be crying out for help. In between the passages I selected is more description of the “foes” and “enemies” who “destroy” and “burn.” It is a savage moment in which God’s people are surely in trouble. The Psalmist turns from the present horrors to the past acclimations of God’s saving acts. The Psalmist remembers the moments in the collective history of salvation when God “shattered the sea-god” or “crushed the Leviathan.” These images evoke a God who is tangibly invested in the thriving and safety of God’s people when threats arise—whether that threat is storm or predator or greedy warrior-kings. Remembering God’s rescue for others in times of need can help us to be in tune with the God who is rescue today. It might look more uncertain from this vantage point, in the midst of the chaos, but from the vantage point of hindsight, we can see the ways God’s help was ever near. Looking back over our life to listen for the themes of God’s presence (and absence) can help us to know who we are and who God is for us.

Today’s mystic is also looking to articulate how we know and meet God. Beatrice of Nazareth was born in Brabant, a Dutch province north of Antwerp. Her mystic text “Seven Ways of Holy Love,” is written in Old Flemish, and is the oldest documented piece of writing in this language. She was part of a Cistercian monastic order, what you might know as the Trappists, that follows the wisdom of St. Bernard of Clairvaux who attempts to articulate “the soul athirst for God.” The words below are from “Seven Ways of Holy Love,” and is declaring what it is like to be enveloped in God’s love. I love the fish and bird metaphors, both because they play on the images of water and air, and because they seem to hold a kind of freedom. I also love that it is in a feminine voice. It is not often that we get ancient theology that uses “she/her” pronouns to center and universalize the spiritual experience of women.

Prayer from the Mystics: Beatrice of Nazareth (1200–1268)
She is like a fish that swims
in the breadth of the water
and rests in the depths.
She is like a bird
that flies in the spaciousness
and height of the sky.
Thus she experiences her spirit
as walking around unbound
in the depth
and spaciousness
and height of love.

May it be so for you. Amen.

August 18, 2021

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