Tuesday, July 20, 2021 (Day 50)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 50 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
El the God Lord, spoke and called to the earth
from the sun’s rising-place to its setting.
From Zion, the zenith of beauty God shone forth.
Let our God come and not be silent.
Before God fire consumes,
and round about God—great storming.
Let God call to the heavens above
and to the earth to judge the people:
“Gather to Me My faithful,
who with sacrifice seal My pact.”
And let the heavens tell God’s justice, for God is judge.
“Hear, O My people, that I may speak, Israel,
that I witness to you. God your God I am.”
An Opening Word
Psalm 50 has three things that I love, all wildly imaginative. First, what Robert Alter calls the “pyrotechnic epiphany” of God. It is as if the Psalmist is narrating a vivid triumphant entry of God—not silent, but a full firework exhibition to welcome in a booming, storming, powerful God. I love the pyrotechnics because it takes some bold theological imagining to see God making such a turbulent and extravagant entry. Then there’s the quotation marks. In this Psalm God speaks. “Gather to Me My faithful,” says the Lord. “Hear, O My people,” demands God. And finally, “God your God I am,” echoing the more ancient words of Exodus 3 where God reveals to Moses, “I am who I am” (or because of the ambiguities of translation from Hebrew which has loose verb tenses, to English, it might be “I will be who I will be” or “I have been who I have been” casting this timeless net across who God is for us). Finally Psalm 50 has the whole earth listening, from the place where the sun rises to the place where the sun sets, which of course means everywhere. The whole world is attentive when God gets on stage to speak. Everyone is all ears, birds, beasts, sea creatures, even the rocks, clouds, and celestial bodies listen. This is an evocative Psalm with so many ways to enter into the artistic, poetic metaphors, that get to the heart of who God is.
Today’s mystic is Catherine of Genoa who I first came across in “Essential Writings in Christian Mysticism.” I vividly remember buying that book on maternity leave in 2017 and read passages aloud to my son in those long days when a mother’s voice was a comfort, no matter the words. At the time, I would not have noticed the life of Catherine of Genoa through the lens of her work caring for the sick during the plague. In 2017 plagues were long distant realities, nothing we had to worry about. But now as we edge slowly (slower than we might hope) out of pandemic, the radical hospitality and generosity of Catherine of Genoa is quiet striking. She was born in 1447 to a noble family in Genoa, Italy. She married at an early age, and during Lent of 1473, she had a deep spiritual conversion moment inspiring her to begin serving the poor. She convinced her husband to do the same, and as the years went on, she and her husband moved into the local hospital so they could be closer to their work of caring for the sick. She was instrumental in caring for those who were swept up in the 1493 plague in Genoa—most of the population died as was common at the time. She partnered with a wealthy businessman to create “The Oratory of Divine Love,” a group that paired contemplative prayer and active charity. She is a mystic to be admired, no doubt.
Her words, below point to that same kind of intensity of the presence of God that our Psalmist highlights, using again, a similar metaphor of “burning rays and shafts of light.”
Prayer from the Mystics: Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510)
I see that the love of God
directs toward the soul
certain burning rays
and shafts of light
that seem penetrating
and powerful enough
to annihilate not merely the body,
but, were it possible, the soul itself.