Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Tuesday, September 7, 2021 (Day 94)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 94 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
God of vengeance, O Lord,
God of vengeance shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth,
bring down on the proud requital.
How long the wicked, O Lord,
how long the wicked exult?
They utter arrogance, speak it,
all the wrongdoers bandy boasts.
Your people, O Lord, they crush,
and Your estate the abuse.
Widow and sojourner they kill,
and orphans the murder.

An Opening Word
Have you ever felt uneasy at the way in which injustice blunders on? Have you ever (secretly?) wished God’s punishment upon those who have perpetrated corruption, exploitation, brutality, suppression, and violent intolerance? Psalm 94 is brutal in its attack on the wicked. The wicked are not just “them” beyond the confines of a well defined “us.” The wicked come even from among the people of God. They abuse God’s estate. They (some of our own) cause the widow, sojourner, and orphans to perish. Psalm 94 returns to the persistent question: why do the wicked prosper? And why doesn’t God do anything about it? This Psalmist wants to know. This Psalmist is hoping God’s answer is vengeance. What do we do with a Psalm like this? Ignore it? Pray it? Problematize it? Acknowledge the power of wishing evildoers (even the ones among us) would be punished? Acknowledge the ways in which this Psalmist’s reality—where the wicked somehow get away with murder—is still today’s reality? Admit the ways in which wicked-and-righteous categories are too narrow? Do we reject or accept this aggressive “God of vengeance”?

Today’s mystic Cynthia Bourgeault, was already combining the mystics and the Psalmists long before I stumbled into this project. In her 2006 book “Chanting the Psalms,” she says, “If you read the psalms carefully you may notice a story unfolding within a story. Beneath the outer adventure of kingdoms and conquests, losses and gains, the psalms bear witness to an ever more remarkable and universal inner adventure.” She is her own kind of spiritual renaissance woman, studying Gregorian chant alongside biblical scholarship in the Psalms, and a robust history and practice of the mystics. In love with contemplative prayer’s practices of silence, she often quotes St. John of the Cross “Silence is God’s first language.” She acknowledges that “we spend so much of our adult energies thinking, planning, worrying, trying to get ahead or stay afloat, that we lose touch with the natural intimacy with God deep within us.”

Prayer from the Mystics: Cynthia Bourgeault (b. 1947)
May I enter the cave of the heart
and discover
that God is alive
and interpenetrating, in, of and around,
illumining and enflaming all.

September 7, 2021

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