Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Tuesday, August 24, 2021 (Day 80)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 80 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Shepherd of Israel, hearken, God Who drives Joseph like sheep, enthroned on the cherubim, shine forth…O God, bring us back, and light up Your face that we may be rescued. Lord, God of armies, how long will You smolder against Your people’s prayer? You fed them bread of tears and made them drink triple measure of tears. You have put us in strife with our neighbors, and our enemies mock us… Lord God of armies, bring us back. Light up Your face, that we may be rescued.

An Opening Word
Psalm 80 expresses true disappointment. It suggests that God should be able to fix the situation and isn’t. That God is the one who has the power to stop the suffering of God’s people and won’t. In that way, the Psalm trusts in the potency of God’s power to act. And yet that trust in God’s power puts the faithful at odds with God’s inaction. If God can stop enemies why hasn’t God stopped them yet? It is a classic question, the ancient impossibility of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Or, “Why do the faithful experience suffering?” These questions of theodicy are amplified when large-scale tragedy and horror penetrate history: for the Psalmist, it was the Babylonian captivity, but for modern people of faith it is probably the Holocaust or the reality and lingering possibility nuclear war. And so our plea remains: “Lord God of armies, bring us back. Light up Your face, that we may be rescued.” Despite the disappointment of the faithful who say “God why haven’t you helped us?” Our litany to God remains the same: help us now!

Today’s mystic is Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi who lived from 1566–1607 in Florence, Italy. Like so many of the mystics, she was born of a noble family, and the had their own confessor, and from him she learned to meditate. One of her writings is called “Forty Days” in which she had fallen ill, and during her illness she expressed to the nuns caring for her these experiences of God—visions, union, and an intense spiritual high. For her the ultimate connection to God was through suffering because Christ suffered. As her biographer says for her “both psychological and physical pain are sudden insight in the Word’s past,” they open us up to being anchored in Christ. The words below are from one of her visions. I love the breath metaphor she uses for the Trinity. In our own pain, the rhythms of our breath can become a lifeline, and that is what I imagine is held within her sense that our Triune God is “constantly breathing out.”

Prayer from the Mystics: Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi (1566–1607)
I was seeing the great union
Between the holy Trinity…
Pure and infinite love
That is constantly breathing out.

May we greet the breath of God today. Amen.

August 24, 2021

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