27 April 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
27 April 2022 (Psalm 63)

‘My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me’ (Psalm 63: 8) … Shane Gilmore’s sculpture of human hands at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this season of Easter, I have returned to my morning reflections on the Psalms, and in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning I am reflecting 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 63:

Psalm 63 is attributed to King David, set when he was in the wilderness of Judah, and its theme concerns being stranded in the wilderness away from one’s family. In the slightly different numbering in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 62.

The phrase is the opening inscription, ‘when he was in the Wilderness of Judah,’ may refer to David’s flight from Absalom (see II Samuel 15 to 16), although it may also refer to the time when Saul was pursuing David (see I Samuel 23: 14, 24: 2).

Psalm 63 can be divided into two parts:

1, verses 1-8: an address to God: opening with the words, ‘O God, you are my God, I seek you’ (verse 1).

This first part evokes desire, praise and then trust in God. The image of the arid earth in verse 1 does not express the absence of God as in other psalms, but rather the aspiration to meet.

Confidence is then expressed by the symbolism of the protective bird. Perhaps also the wings recall the wings of the cherubim on the ark of the covenant, representing the Lord.

2, verses 9-11: the psalmist’s wishes of vengeance are expressed in the third person in the last three verses.

The change of emphasis is evident in verse 10, with disconcerting talk of vengeance towards the enemies of the psalmist: ‘they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals.’

Some translations refer to foxes rather than jackals rather than foxes. But it is the jackals rather than foxes that prey on dead bodies, and assemble like troops on the battlefield to feast on the slain.

A similar cry of vengeance is heard in Jeremiah 11: 20.

Does this psalm end with a question for the king in the last verse, or is this the psalmist himself, extending his prayer to the community.

In the Early Church, Psalm 63, as known as ‘the morning hymn.’ Saint John Chrysostom wrote that ‘it was decreed and ordained by the primitive [church] fathers, that no day should pass without the public singing of this Psalm.’ He also observed that ‘the spirit and soul of the whole Book of Psalms is contracted into this Psalm.’

At the end of the 17th century, Michel-Richard de Lalande wrote a work in Latin according to this psalm (S.20). It is one of the great motets to celebrate the services at the royal chapel in the Château de Versailles for the Sun King, Louis XIV.

The Czech composer Antonín Dvořák set part of Psalm 63, together with part of Psalm 61, as No. 6 of his Biblical Songs (1894).

‘As in a dry and weary land where there is no water’ (Psalm 63: 1) … dry land on the island of Elafonisi off the south-west coast of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 63 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.

1 O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be prey for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Logging in the Solomon Islands,’ and was introduced day on Sunday morning by Brother Christopher John SSF, Minister General of the Society of Saint Francis.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (27 April 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the Society of Saint Francis, Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace.

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

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