22 June 2022

‘A Prayer for Those in Need’ in
Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield

Light streaming in through the windows on the south side of the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Two us were in Lichfield and Tamworth for a few days last week, visiting a number of places that have played important roles in the development of my personal spiritual and prayer life, and that have had interesting places in the story of the Comberford family.

In Lichfield, we visited Lichfield Cathedral, sitting in the chapter stalls for Choral Eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and spent time in prayer and reflection in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital – both have shaped and influenced my prayer life and spiritual life, I have seen both as my ‘spiritual home’ since my late teens, and my experiences there eventually led to my ordination as deacon in 2000 and priest in 2001.

In Tamworth, we spent an afternoon in the Moat House, the Elizabethan-era town house of the Comberford family on Lichfield Street, and later visited the Comberford Chapel with its family monuments in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth.

This time of prayer, pilgrimage and reflection came just a week before the anniversaries later this week of my ordination as deacon (25 June 2000) and priest (24 June 2001).

As I was preparing for time in prayer in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, I came across this ‘Prayer for Those in Need’ on a prayer card near the chapel door:

A Prayer for Those in Need

God, whose mercy and compassion never fail,
look kindly upon the suffering of all people:
the needs of the homeless;
the anxieties of prisoners;
the pains of the sick and the injured;
the sorrows of the bereaved;
the helplessness of the weak.
Comfort them and strengthen them for the sake of
your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.Amen

The open door leading into the chapel the Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
22 June 2022 (Psalm 119)

‘I am deeply troubled; preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word’ (Psalm 119: 107) … street art in Plaza de la Judería in Malaga (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my 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.

‘Do not let me stray’ (Psalm 119: 10) … street signs in Cobh, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 119:

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible; with 176 verses, this is also the longest chapter in the Bible. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is counted as Psalm 118. It is often known by the Latin name it takes from its opening words, Beati inmaculati in via qui ambulant in lege Domini.

The psalm is a hymn psalm and an acrostic poem, in which each set of eight verses begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The theme of the verses is the prayer of one who delights in and lives by the Torah, the sacred law. Psalms 1, 19 and 119 may be referred to as ‘the psalms of the Law.’

The 176 verses are divided into 22 stanzas, one for each of the 22 characters in the Hebrew alphabet. In the Hebrew text, each of the eight verses of each stanza begins with the same Hebrew letter. This feature was not maintained in the Septuagint, except that many manuscripts have placed at the beginning of each stanza the name of the corresponding Hebrew letter. For example, א (ʾalef) is the first stanza (verses 1-8), and ת (taw) is the last (verses 169-176).

Because of this structure, the Psalm was one of the main occurrences of the Hebrew alphabet in mediaeval texts.

The name of God appears 24 times in this psalm. Almost every verse uses is a synonym for the Torah, such as dabar (‘word, promise’) or mishpatim (‘rulings’).

The acrostic form and the use of the Torah words constitute the framework for an elaborate prayer. The grounds for the prayer are established in the first two stanzas (א alef and ב beth): the Torah is a source of blessing and right conduct, and the psalmist pledges to dedicate himself to the law.

The prayer proper begins in the third stanza (ג gimel, verse 17-24).

Like many other psalms, the prayers includes dramatic lament (see verses 81-88), joyous praise (see verses 45-48) and prayers for life, deliverance and vindication (see verses 132-34).

Psalm 119 is unique in the way that these requests are continually and explicitly grounded in the gift of the Torah and the psalmist’s loyalty to it.

The first and fifth verses in a stanza often state the same theme followed by a statement of opposition, affliction or conflict, and the final (eighth) verse tends to be a transition introducing the next stanza.

Psalm 119 incorporates several dozen prayers. The themes found in this psalm include human opposition, affliction, delight in the law and the goodness of God, which sometimes run into each other.

At times, the psalmist seems to appeal to God’s sovereignty, so that God as sovereign is invoked (see verse 36), while the Psalmist also takes personal responsibility (see verse 112). The psalm ends with an appeal to God to seek his servant who strayed.

The whole psalm is in praise of the Law, the expression of God’s covenant with humanity in the Old Testament, and of keeping it. The emphasis is on the love and desire for the word of God in Israel’s law, rather than on legalism.

The Psalmist too is challenged to consider his own need for patience and endurance, to see not his immediate predicament but to look to the future. He thinks he is a failure because of his present circumstances, but does the rejection he feels today shape his tomorrow?

‘Your statutes have been my songs wherever I make my home’ (Psalm 119: 54) … a £119 price tag on a violin in a shop window in Cambridge … Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 119 (NRSVA):

א, Alef

1 Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 O that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous ordinances.
8 I will observe your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.

ב, Beth

9 How can young people keep their way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
11 I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
13 With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
14 I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

ג, Gimmel

17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
so that I may live and observe your word.
18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
19 I live as an alien in the land;
do not hide your commandments from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments;
22 take away from me their scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your decrees.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your decrees are my delight,
they are my counsellors.

ד, Daleth

25 My soul clings to the dust;
revive me according to your word.
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
29 Put false ways far from me;
and graciously teach me your law.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me.
31 I cling to your decrees, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame.
32 I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding.

ה, He'

33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Turn my heart to your decrees,
and not to selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
which is for those who fear you.
39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
for your ordinances are good.
40 See, I have longed for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life.

ו, Waw

41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise.
42 Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me,
for I trust in your word.
43 Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your ordinances.
44 I will keep your law continually,
for ever and ever.
45 I shall walk at liberty,
for I have sought your precepts.
46 I will also speak of your decrees before kings,
and shall not be put to shame;
47 I find my delight in your commandments,
because I love them.
48 I revere your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes.

ז, Zayin

49 Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my distress,
that your promise gives me life.
51 The arrogant utterly deride me,
but I do not turn away from your law.
52 When I think of your ordinances from of old,
I take comfort, O Lord.
53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
those who forsake your law.
54 Your statutes have been my songs
wherever I make my home.
55 I remember your name in the night, O Lord,
and keep your law.
56 This blessing has fallen to me,
for I have kept your precepts.

ח, Ḫeth

57 The Lord is my portion;
I promise to keep your words.
58 I implore your favour with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 When I think of your ways,
I turn my feet to your decrees;
60 I hurry and do not delay
to keep your commandments.
61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
I do not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to praise you,
because of your righteous ordinances.
63 I am a companion of all who fear you,
of those who keep your precepts.
64 The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love;
teach me your statutes.

ט, Ṭeth

65 You have dealt well with your servant,
O Lord, according to your word.
66 Teach me good judgement and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments.
67 Before I was humbled I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
68 You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes.
69 The arrogant smear me with lies,
but with my whole heart I keep your precepts.
70 Their hearts are fat and gross,
but I delight in your law.
71 It is good for me that I was humbled,
so that I might learn your statutes.
72 The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

י, Yudh

73 Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
because I have hoped in your word.
75 I know, O Lord, that your judgements are right,
and that in faithfulness you have humbled me.
76 Let your steadfast love become my comfort
according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight.
78 Let the arrogant be put to shame,
because they have subverted me with guile;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
79 Let those who fear you turn to me,
so that they may know your decrees.
80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
so that I may not be put to shame.

כ, Kaf

81 My soul languishes for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
82 My eyes fail with watching for your promise;
I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’
83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
84 How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
85 The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me;
they flout your law.
86 All your commandments are enduring;
I am persecuted without cause; help me!
87 They have almost made an end of me on earth;
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 In your steadfast love spare my life,
so that I may keep the decrees of your mouth.

ל, Lamedh

89 The Lord exists for ever;
your word is firmly fixed in heaven.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
91 By your appointment they stand today,
for all things are your servants.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my misery.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.
94 I am yours; save me,
for I have sought your precepts.
95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
but I consider your decrees.
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection,
but your commandment is exceedingly broad.

מ, Mem

97 Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is always with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102 I do not turn away from your ordinances,
for you have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.

נ, Nun

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances.
107 I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
108 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your ordinances.
109 I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts.
111 Your decrees are my heritage for ever;
they are the joy of my heart.
112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes
for ever, to the end.

ס, Samekh

113 I hate the double-minded,
but I love your law.
114 You are my hiding-place and my shield;
I hope in your word.
115 Go away from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commandments of my God.
116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
and let me not be put to shame in my hope.
117 Hold me up, that I may be safe
and have regard for your statutes continually.
118 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes;
for their cunning is in vain.
119 All the wicked of the earth you count as dross;
therefore I love your decrees.
120 My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgements.

ע, ʿAyin

121 I have done what is just and right;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Guarantee your servant’s well-being;
do not let the godless oppress me.
123 My eyes fail from watching for your salvation,
and for the fulfilment of your righteous promise.
124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love,
and teach me your statutes.
125 I am your servant; give me understanding,
so that I may know your decrees.
126 It is time for the Lord to act,
for your law has been broken.
127 Truly I love your commandments
more than gold, more than fine gold.
128 Truly I direct my steps by all your precepts;
I hate every false way.

פ, Peʾ

129 Your decrees are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 With open mouth I pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom towards those who love your name.
133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears
because your law is not kept.

צ, Ṣadheh

137 You are righteous, O Lord,
and your judgements are right.
138 You have appointed your decrees in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
139 My zeal consumes me
because my foes forget your words.
140 Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
141 I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and your law is the truth.
143 Trouble and anguish have come upon me,
but your commandments are my delight.
144 Your decrees are righteous for ever;
give me understanding that I may live.

ק, Quf

145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord.
I will keep your statutes.
146 I cry to you; save me,
that I may observe your decrees.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I put my hope in your words.
148 My eyes are awake before each watch of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
149 In your steadfast love hear my voice;
O Lord, in your justice preserve my life.
150 Those who persecute me with evil purpose draw near;
they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, O Lord,
and all your commandments are true.
152 Long ago I learned from your decrees
that you have established them for ever.

ר, Resh

153 Look on my misery and rescue me,
for I do not forget your law.
154 Plead my cause and redeem me;
give me life according to your promise.
155 Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek your statutes.
156 Great is your mercy, O Lord;
give me life according to your justice.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
yet I do not swerve from your decrees.
158 I look at the faithless with disgust,
because they do not keep your commands.
159 Consider how I love your precepts;
preserve my life according to your steadfast love.
160 The sum of your word is truth;
and every one of your righteous ordinances endures for ever.

ש, Śin/Shin

161 Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words.
162 I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.
163 I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous ordinances.
165 Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble.
166 I hope for your salvation, O Lord,
and I fulfil your commandments.
167 My soul keeps your decrees;
I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep your precepts and decrees,
for all my ways are before you.

ת, Taw

169 Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
170 Let my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
because you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let me live that I may praise you,
and let your ordinances help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.

‘Hebrew Columns’ painted by schoolchildren in the ‘Holy Writ’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral in 2014 … the 176 verses in Psalm 119 are divided into 22 stanzas, one for each of the 22 characters in the Hebrew alphabet (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Swarupantor programme in the Church of Bangladesh. This theme was introduced on Sunday.

Wednesday 22 June 2022:

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for those around the world who have been affected by the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. May they be supported to find secure and fair employment.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

At 176 verses, the composer of Psalm 119 has written the longest chapter in the Bible … the composer Eric Coates lived at Flat 176 in Baker Street, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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 Hebrew letters inserted by Patrick Comerford, 2022.