Opening: 100 Days of Psalms and Prayers

Friday, September 10, 2021(Day 96)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 97 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
The Lord reigns—
Cloud and dense fog around God,
justice and judgement the base of God’s throne.
Fire goes before the Lord,
and all around burns God’s foes.
Lightening lit up the world;
the earth saw and quaked.
Mountains melted like wax before the Lord,
before the Master of all the earth.

An Opening Word
Psalm 97 sounds like it was written by a poet who has been paying attention. It evokes the earth’s many mysteries, the jolting surprises of earthquake, slick melting of mountains by mudslide, hot volcanic rock liquifying the surface of the earth, spitting lightening, impenetrable fog. God is somewhere within all of that: the power of God found within or at least entangled in the powers of the earth. There is something breathtaking about those kinds of earth-encounters that connects me to the divine: raises my heart rate, causes me to hold my breath, or tremble or notice goosebumps across my skin. Those moments of earth’s power make me feel my own powerlessness, and there enters in a sense of awe which connects me to God. If I were writing Psalm 97, I might give it softer edges, but I guess there is some part of me that loves the images found here. “Mountains melted like wax before the Lord” is so evocative, graphic. And yet it is in no way foreign, we don’t need to make huge interpretive leaps in order to know what it means. It paints a picture. It carves out space to see, know, and experience the God whose power is so beyond our own.

Today’s mystic is Barbara A. Holmes. She writes about the contemplative and mystic roots and realities of spiritual life in the Black church. Her book “Joy Unspeakable” traces the contemplative movements of the Black church from the ancient “desert mothers and fathers” of the fourth century through to slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement. She critiques the idea that contemplative practices are “silent” and “solitary” suggesting that contemplative practices in the Black church are ordinarily communal, sung, noisy, embodied moments which seek the mystic center of things. She suggests that such communal contemplative ways of spiritual belonging were key to survival during the Middle Passage, centuries of slavery, and decades of continued struggle for justice. A longer excerpt of her poem Joy Unspeakable can be found here.

Prayer from the Mystics: Barbara A. Holmes
Joy Unspeakable
the unlikely merger of
trance and high tech lives
ecstatic songs and a jazz repertoire
Joy unspeakable is
a symphony of incongruities
of faces aglow and hearts
on fire
and the wonder of surviving together.

September 10, 2021

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