A Contemplative Prayer
This week we mark the middle of the Lenten Journey as we pause to consider the words of Psalm 19. Our journey began with Psalm 51 on Ash Wednesday as the Psalmist was crying out to God for mercy after he recognized that the act of sin he committed, though hidden from Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, had been committed against God and only God. The Psalmist’s experience assures each of us that all that is required is for each one to have a broken and contrite heart and God’s forgiveness will flow freely.
We next paused on the Lenten Journey at Psalm 25 and here the Psalmist loved Yahweh because his cry for help was not ignored. His enemies were closing in on him, and the shame of his own life was overwhelming him, as we see him hastening to the Place of Refuge. It was in the Place of Refuge that the Psalmist had time to listen to the chatter between his ears. It was his own sin and shame that was his greatest enemy so he asked Yahweh for mercy and lovingkindness. The word ‘mercy’ can be translated ‘womb’ and we watched as the Psalmist crawled into the womb of Yahweh and he waited for Yahweh to show and guide him on the paths of truth. We can never wait too long for Yahweh to come.
Psalm 116 last week challenged us to write our own review of Yahweh and what we thought of Him. This Psalmist posted an impressive five-star rating. He is in love with Yahweh because Yahweh bends his ear and is always listening for the cries of his children. No matter where we are, or no matter how much danger we are in, Yahweh will come to the rescue. This Psalm is also sung at the Passover Celebration even today and it seems that Jesus used words from this Psalm to comfort himself during the last hours of his life. His disciples, who had promised prayer support, were just too tired to stay awake with him. I can just see Jesus walking away from them as he mumbled, “these men are just a bunch of liars.” The only way to deal with his pain was to respond again to this Psalm and he willingly took the cup of salvation and called on Yahweh for help (vs11,13).
Today, as we enter the half-way mark in the Lenten Journey, Psalm 19 is very different from the previous Psalms. This can be considered a Contemplative prayer. This form of prayer is distinct from vocal prayer where we recite words, and is different from meditation, which is a form of mental prayer. In meditation we continuously think over and reflect on a particular subject.
Contemplation is a noun. It means “the act of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. It is a spontaneous activity without the exertion of effort.” Contemplative prayer has sometimes been called ‘a gaze of faith’. This beautiful Contemplative Psalm can be divided into three distinct sections:
Vs. 1-6 - Look Upward
Vs, 7-11 - Look Downward
Vs. 12-14 - Look Inward
Psalm 19:1-6 - Look Upward
There is nothing more beautiful on a wintery day in Saskatchewan than to look upward into the sky and see sun dogs sitting on either side of the sun in blazing brightness. In that moment, it is easy to forget how cold it really is. When I am driving in the morning east of the University of Regina, I can hardly see because it is so bright.
Psalm19 begins with the extravaganza of proclaiming God’s handiwork in creation and telling the whole world of his glory. These first six verses are a pictorial display directed at our eyes and our heart if we will just look upward. These are the works of God. They describe the canopy of the sky, sun, moon, stars and clouds which gush out wordless words, speechless speech, voiceless voice day after day throughout the world. We see the majestic awakening of the sun as it rises daily in the morning sky to begin its journey of joy till the setting of the evening sun. The Psalmist compares it to a bridegroom going out of his tent ready to meet his bride. As I am writing this Blog, the sun is shining into my room and its radiance fills my heart with joy. The sun can be described as the bridegroom of God’s creation.
In the Summer of 2007, I climbed Mt. Sinai and arrived at the top in time to see the sun rise. One begins the climb around 1:00 in the morning under the canopy of the moon and the stars. Of course the Bedouins are there in the dark with their camels inviting you to ride one of them rather than take the four hour walk up to the top. I confess, I enjoyed the camel ride up most of the climb. I can assure you that the sun rises full of playful energy, ready to strut across the sky till it sets in the evening. It is a sight to behold.
Take some time during the day to step out of your home and look thoughtfully upwards at the sky or take a walk in nature as you contemplate these six verses.
Psalm 19:7-11 - Look Downward
These next verses are the Sunday Lenten Readings for this week and they draw our attention to look downward, to where we live. In these verses, we see a change in the name of God from Creator, a formal name, to Yahweh, the personal name of God on this journey with us. A simple way to explain the difference in names is if you know me formally as Mrs. Daum, and on a personal level, you know me as Gloria.
We have encountered the Works of God, now we will encounter the Words of Yahweh. These verses form a litany, which is a liturgical form of prayer consisting of a list of invocations, each followed by an unvarying response.
- Six descriptive titles of the Words of Yahweh - these words are all nouns.
- Six characteristic qualities of the Words of Yahweh - these words are all adjectives.
- Six divine effects declared by the Words of Yahweh - these words are all verbs or action words.
Nouns Adjectives Verbs
V7. Law Perfect Restoring us
V7. Testimony Sure Make us wise
V8. Precepts Right Let us rejoice
V8. Commandment Pure Enlighten us
V9. Fear Clean Enduring forever
V9. Rules True & Righteous Enduring forever
The Psalmist here invites us to note that the prepositional phrase, ‘of Yahweh’ connects the descriptive titles, the characteristic qualities and the divine effects. For example in Verse 7, the Law of Yahweh is perfect. It is restoring us. The God of Creation desires that we have a relationship with his personal name, Yahweh, and there is no need for us to be afraid of the Words of Yahweh. Verse 10 describes the Words of Yahweh as fine gold. The metaphor is of spiritual treasure to be protected. Another way to see the Words of Yahweh is that they are sweeter than honey, which has powerful healing properties from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet. Yes, the Words of Yahweh can warn us of impending danger ahead and if we listen, we can experience great reward (Verse 11).
Psalm 19:12-14 - Look Inwardly
We began by encountering the God of creation who reveals his glory through speechless words everyday, no matter where you live in this world, showing us the Works of Yahweh. He reveals his character through Scripture by sharing with us a Litany of the Words of Yahweh inviting us to allow these words to shape our relationship with Him. God is at the very heart of this Psalm because He is the source of both Creation and Scripture. Now, there needs to be a response to what God shows us and says to us. A rhetorical question is posed: “Who can understand his errors?” (vs 12). The Psalmist takes a personal look inward. It is not always easy to recognize our sins and like David in Psalm 51, sometimes we need others to confront us about deep seated sins. We can often be blind to the consequences of a sinful action. It is important to examine your attitude and not to try to cover over your sins. Otherwise, you may find that your sins now become deliberate acts of defiance because you refused to heed correction. The Psalmist prayed for the grace to not let his sins control him.
Lastly, in v.14, after a time of contemplating the Psalmist will respond and pray that the words spoken outwardly from his mouth and the unspoken words inwardly in his heart would match and be pleasing to God.
Please take time at the end of this week to write a prayer reflecting this Psalm.
St. Ephrem’s Prayer
O Lord and Master of my life
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair,
thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.