Thursday, August 5, 2021 (Day 61)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 61 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Hear, God, my song, listen close to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call You.
When my heart faints, You lead me to a rock high above me.
For You have been a shelter to me,
a tower of strength in the face of the foe.
Let me dwell in Your tent for all time,
let me shelter in Your wings’ hiding-place.
An Opening Word
This Psalm gets right to the point: “listen close to my prayer.” It does not explain the situation in lengthy detail. The Psalmist just asks, “listen… let me shelter.” The Psalmist recalls other times when God has been shelter-and-protection, and then asks for that same gift again.
A few years back, I learned this little camp song that goes, “I am a tower of strength within and without… I let all burdens fall from my shoulders…I let all shackles be loosed” We used it hiking in the wilderness. It helped you feel strong when the weight of your pack might overwhelm. The rhythm let you walk, one foot in front of the other, with purpose. While it isn’t exclusively a faith-based text and does not necessarily have to be envisioned as a divine-immersed approach to life, it seems very in tune with Psalm 61. In Psalm 61 it is God who is the tower of strength. I imagine the camp song to echo that God-centered sentiment.
Today’s mystic is John Cassian who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, was educated as a religious leader in Bethlehem, and moved to the Egyptian desert for seven years in search of the silence and contemplative life of the wilderness oasis. Much of his writing from then on was rooted in that rich experience in the barren land beyond civilization. In 410 when Rome was under siege by the Visigoths, John Cassian doubled down on the comfort of such seclusion in the desert and decided that the only way to be free and find peace was to leave culture and society behind and seek the solitude of monastic life. You can see his search for God’s presence in his writing below.
Prayer from the Mystics: John Cassian (359 to around 445)
BUT the contemplation of God is gained
in a variety of ways.
For we not only discover God
by admiring God’s incomprehensible essence,
a thing which still lies hid in the hope of the promise,
but we see God through the greatness of God’s creation,
and the consideration of God’s justice,
and the aid of His daily providence:
when with pure minds we contemplate
what God has done with the saints in every generation,
when with trembling heart we admire the power
with which God governs, directs, and rules all things,
or the vastness of God’s knowledge,
and that eye of God from which no secrets of the heart can lie hid,
when we consider the sand of the sea,
and the number of the waves measured by Him and known to Him,
when in our wonder we think that the drops of rain,
the days and hours of the ages,
and all things past and future are present to God’s knowledge;
when we gaze in unbounded admiration on that ineffable mercy of God.