13 May 2022

‘I would sleep, and my sleep be sweet.
For when I am far from you –
my life is death’

Plaza de Juda Levi in Córdoba recalls the Spanish Jewish doctor, poet and philosopher, Judah Halevi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have had a few difficult days and nights in Dublin and Askeaton, packing things that need to be moved and wondering how I can leave behind so many things, particularly a large number of books.

Books are memories, and memories bring the past to life. Books are guides to the present. And books offer hope and vision for the future.

I am on my back to Stony Stratford tonight, and looking forward to a more relaxing weekend than the week that is past.

But, as I contemplate rest and sleep this Friday night, and look forward to the weekend that is ahead, as I think of the past few days and nights and some of the feelings of weakness and loneliness in recent days, I am reflecting on words I found in one of the books I have been packing.

In a remarkable prayer for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Spanish Jewish doctor, poet and philosopher, Rabbi Judah Halevi (ca 1085-1141) gave poignant expression to his yearnings and frustrations in a cry of spiritual despair.

The most poignant section of the prayer for divine aid comes at the beginning. Here Yehuda Halevi confesses his consummate desire for God’s grace, and decides that life without God is like death:

O Lord! All my desire is toward you,
even if it does not rise to speech.
Grant me your favour a mere moment –
and I would die.
Please grant my wish, and I will commit
my spirit to your keeping.
I would sleep, and my sleep be sweet.
For when I am far from you –
my life is death;
And were I to cleave to you –
my death would be life!
But I don’t know what to do,
what I should bring you in service.

Judah Halevi also wrote several Sabbath hymns. One of the most beautiful of them ends with the words:

On Friday doth my cup o’erflow
What blissful rest the night shall know
When, in thine arms, my toil and woe
Are all forgot, Sabbath my love!
’Tis dusk, with sudden light, distilled
From one sweet face, the world is filled;
The tumult of my heart is stilled
For thou art come, Sabbath my love!
Bring fruits and wine and sing a gladsome lay,
Cry, ‘Come in peace, O restful Seventh day!’

Shabbat Shalom

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
13 May 2022 (Psalm 79)

‘Let the groans of the prisoners come before you’ (Psalm 79: 11) … the former prison cells in the Guildhall in Bore Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I plan to take a flight from Dublin to Birmingham later this afternoon (13 May 2022). But, before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 79:

Psalm 79 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 78.

This is the eighth of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘A Psalm of Asaph.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 79 has been described as a communal lament complaining that the nations have defiled the Temple in Jerusalem and murdered the holy people, leaving their corpses unburied (verses 1-4).

The focus of this psalm is the importance of prayer in the midst of calamities.

The occasion is probably the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 587 BCE, although some commentators suppose that the reference in the psalm is to the later persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes.

The lament of the community acknowledges their faults and begs for God’s mercy.

‘Let the groans of the prisoners come before you’ (Psalm 79: 11) … three chained prisoners praying behind a grille, watched over by Turk and a guard-dog, in a sculpture on the Charles Bridge, Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 79 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of Asaph.

1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a taunt to our neighbours,
mocked and derided by those around us.

5 How long, O Lord? Will you be angry for ever?
Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
6 Pour out your anger on the nations
that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms
that do not call on your name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob
and laid waste his habitation.

8 Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins,
for your name’s sake.
10 Why should the nations say,
‘Where is their God?’
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes.

11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.
12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbours
the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
13 Then we your people, the flock of your pasture,
will give thanks to you for ever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Celebration in Casablanca.’ It was introduced on Sunday morning by the Right Revd David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (13 May 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org