Thursday, July 22, 2021 (Day 52)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 52 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Why boast of evil, O hero?—God’s kindness is all day long…
Look, the man who does not make God his stronghold
and who trusts his great wealth,
who would be strong in his disaster!
But I am like a verdant olive tree in the house of our God.
I trust in God’s kindness forevermore.
I shall acclaim You forever, for You have acted.
An Opening Word
Here, the Psalmist challenges a wrong-doer, someone who has hurt them in some way. Some translations take the phrase “O hero” and translate it “O Mighty One” in the same way we might sarcastically call someone a “hot shot.” You get the sense that the “hero” is braggadocious, and acting purposefully mean, cruel, and unethical—and then swaggering through town, announcing it. The Psalmist is calling out this unethical person and suggesting that the ethical path (on which the Psalmist treads) is the Godly path. Commentator Yolanda Marve Norton says that the Psalmist’s words remind her of someone who has lived an oppressed, enslaved, or disenfranchised life, someone who has escaped the misery of emotional and physical subjugation, and finally has a chance to speak out against their captor.
I love the phrase “I am like a verdant olive tree in the house of our God.” Biblical scholars remind us that olive trees were economically valuable for food, medicine, lamps, perfumes, religious rituals, furniture construction. In other words, the olive tree’s impact is everywhere (for some reason, it makes me think of amazon.com: find a room in our house or business that hasn’t been impacted by that company’s market saturation). The image of an olive tree exudes life, fertility, vitality, and power. In God’s house, the Psalmist gains all of that, without resorting to evil, unethical ways.
Today’s mystic is Italian-born Angela of Foligno who was married in her early twenties in the year 1220. Together they had several sons, but by 1228, Angela’s husband, sons, and mother all died. She had been graced with wealth, beauty, intelligence, and a family, but when perpetual loss came to her doorstep, she made a profound about-face, and sold all her land, gave up all her possessions, and made a vow of poverty, modeling her life after St. Francis of Assisi. She joined the Order of St. Francis, and after much spiritual seeking, visited his home town of Assisi, and left filled with inner peace and a deep intimacy with God. The prayer below is reportedly the prayer she repeated aloud when she arrived in the village of Assisi. It is full of longing, a spirit of seeking-amid-suffering, and a deep mystic sensibility.
Prayer from the Mystics: Angela of Foligno (date of birth unknown–1309)
Love still unknown,
Why? Why? Why?