Poem for a Tuesday — “Nat Tuner in the Clearing” by Alvin Aubert
But warm still from the fire that cheered us, Lighted us in this clearing where it seems Scarcely an hour ago we feasted on Burnt pig from our tormentors’ unwilling Bounty and charted the high purpose your Word had launched us on, And now, my comrades Dead, or taken; your servant, pressed by the Bloody yelps of hounds, forsaken, save for The stillness of the word that persists quivering And breath-moist on his tongue; and these faint coals Soon to be rushed to dying glow by the Indifferent winds of miscarriage-What now, My Lord? A priestess once, they say, could write On leaves, unlock the time-bound spell of deeds Undone. I let fall upon these pale remains Your breath-moist word, preempt the winds, and give Them now their one last glow, that some dark child In time to come might pass this way and, in This clearing, read and know….
In Furious Flower. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004, p. 46.
Alvin Aubert was a scholar, poet, and editor, shaped by the African American culture and rural life of his childhood along the Mississippi River. He left school early to work, joined the Army, and earned his GED. After his service, Aubert returned to school, earning a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan, where he was a Woodrow Wilson National Fellow. His writing was strongly influenced by the blues tradition. In addition to his six books of poetry, Aubert was a gifted educator. He taught at Southern University, SUNY Fredonia, and Wayne State University. He founded and edited the award-winning journal Obsidian, noted for publishing works in English by writers of African descent worldwide. “Nat Turner in the Clearing,” written about the 1831 slave rebellion in Southampton, Virginia, was Aubert’s first published poem. On a hot summer day in his office at Southern University, Aubert had just finished reading “The Confession of Nat Turner” when he felt the presence of Turner there in the room with him. He picked up the pen and began to write, casting the poem in the form of a prayer.
“Sometimes the mountain is hidden from me in veils of cloud, sometimes I am hidden from the mountain in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue, when I forget or refuse to go down to the shore or a few yards up the road, on a clear day, to reconfirm that witnessing presence.”
in A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 72.
When British-American poet Denise Levertov was five years old, she declared she would be a writer. At the age of 12, she sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot, who replied with a two-page letter of encouragement. Her father Paul Levertov was a Russian Hasidic Jew who taught at the University of Leipzig. During the First World War, he was held under house arrest as an enemy alien by virtue of his ethnicity. After emigrating to the UK, he converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. Denise said, “My father’s Hasidic ancestry, his being steeped in Jewish and Christian scholarship and mysticism, his fervor and eloquence as a preacher, were factors built into my cells.” She was described by the New York Times as, “the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.” She wrote and published twenty-four books of poetry.
Sabbath Day Thoughts — How’s Your Prayer Life? Luke 11:1-13
If you visit the John Wesley House in London, you will see that the 18th century father of Methodism had a small walk-in closet off his bedroom. This prayer room is sometimes called “The Powerhouse of Methodism” because Wesley believed that his prayerful efforts within the closet were key to the success of his mission to the world. Wesley began each day with two hours in his closet, praying with an open Bible and a fervent heart.
19th century Plymouth Brethren evangelist George Muller was the master of persistent prayer. By his own admission, the youthful Muller was a thief, liar, and gambler, but he attended a prayer meeting in 1825 that transformed his life. Muller committed to praying daily for five of his young friends who were far from Christ. A few months later, one of them had a conversion experience. Within two years, two more found Jesus. The fourth friend came to faith after twenty-five years. Muller died in 1898, having prayed for the fifth friend for sixty-three years and eight months. Before Muller was buried, his prayer was finally answered as the fifth friend finally committed his life to Christ.
Rosa Parks is best known as a Civil Rights activist with the courage to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 by refusing to move to the back of the bus. We are less likely to know that Rosa Parks was a person of profound faith who grounded her activism in prayer. In her book Quiet Strength, Parks writes that God assured her that she would not be alone on the bus on that fateful day. “I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face,” Parks stated, “God did away with all my fear . . . It was time for someone to stand up—or in my case, sit down.”
We all know prayer warriors, those folks who are ever eager to take it to the Lord in prayer. A trusted friend, a family member, a pastor, or a link in the local prayer chain, these are the people we turn to when we get that tough diagnosis, or there are problems on the home front, or our kids are in trouble. We trust that they will listen deeply and pray passionately, letting God know that help is needed.
Even though prayer is a cornerstone of the faithful life and we are well-acquainted with champions of prayer, we may struggle to have a meaningful, committed practice of prayer. Our calendars are so full that the only times left for prayer are those few minutes at the close of the day when we fall exhausted into bed, unable to keep our eyes open long enough to express the confessions and intercessions that we long to lift to God. When we do find the time to pray, we worry about what to say. What are the right words to get God’s attention? How specific do we need to get? How do we know that God is listening? Perhaps most daunting of all tasks is public prayer, praying out loud in a group. We might rather eat Brussels sprouts or take the garbage out than spontaneously pray in a roomful of strangers. If we were being deeply honest, we might admit that we place our trust in those prayer warriors because we believe that they have something that we don’t, as if when God was handing out the prayer power, some of us got a substandard quotient.
If it makes us feel any better, even the great Reformer Martin Luther sometimes fell short in prayer. Luther once infamously quipped, “I have so much to do today that I must spend the first three hours in prayer.” He notoriously was reported to have said that an exception should be made for those of us who struggle with prayer—we should begin our days with four hours of prayer. But in a letter to his friend Philip Melancthon, Luther confessed that he too fell short in prayer, “I sit here like a fool, and hardened in leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God, yet burn in a big fire of my untamed body. In short, I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, in laziness, leisure, and sleepiness. … Already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied.”
Jesus’ disciples must have also struggled with prayer. That’s why they asked Jesus to give them a lesson on how to pray. They had noticed how vital prayer was for Jesus. The Lord seemed to find the fuel for his dynamic ministry in times of quiet communion with his heavenly Father. Before naming the twelve disciples, Jesus spent the night in prayer. While working wonders of healing or casting out demons, Jesus turned to prayer. To find the strength to endure his betrayal and execution, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was a man steeped in prayer.
The pattern of prayer that Jesus taught his friends is surprisingly simple. In Luke’s gospel, the Lord’s Prayer is four terse sentences. Jesus tells us to begin with praise, acknowledging the holiness of God and our longing for the coming of God’s kingdom. Then, we pray for what we truly need: sustenance to fuel our bodies/, the healing of relationships through forgiveness and a willingness to be forgiven/, and lastly, protection from life’s temptations and difficulties. According to Jesus, all we really need to pray are four simple heartfelt sentences that envision God as the source of our world, our lives, our healing, and our protection. That’s it.
It must have sounded too good to be true to the disciples. I can imagine that they cast doubtful looks at one another as Jesus disclosed the secrets of being a real prayer warrior, because Jesus followed up his lesson on prayer with two playful, pointed teachings to bring his point on prayer home. The story of the friend who comes knocking at midnight assures us that God hears our prayers and responds. The example of a parent who lovingly provides good things for his children assures us that God, our heavenly parent, always provides what is good and right for us. Jesus makes it sound so easy.
And maybe that’s the real point to Jesus’ lesson. Prayer is meant to be easy. It’s meant to be as natural as the drawing of breath, the sympathy of a friend, or the care of a parent. Maybe the trouble is that we pray from the head, looking for those eloquent words, hoping to steer the course of the world, wanting to forge a future that meets our personal vision of how things ought to be. But Jesus teaches us to pray from the heart, to pray in ways that acknowledge the greatness of God and our personal vulnerability. When we pray from the head, we expect the world to change, which is often a recipe for disappointment, but when we pray from the heart, we can expect to be changed. Heartfelt prayer coaxes us to grow into the people God created us to be. Heartfelt prayer equips us to live to the best of our ability in a world that is less than perfect and sometimes bitterly disappointing.
So, I invite us to make a fresh start on prayer this morning, to keep things simple and heartfelt. Perhaps you might even allow me to help you, guiding you in praying the way that Jesus invited us to pray. I invite you to close your eyes and bow your head as I lead you in a prayer from the heart.
First, give silent praise for the holiness and majesty of God, who stretches the heavens like a tent and puffs into our lungs the breath of life . . . We praise and thank you, God.
Allow your heart to yearn for God’s kingdom, for a world where righteousness and peace will kiss each other . . . Thy Kingdom come.
Now think about your day ahead. Ask the Lord to provide what is needed, whether it is strength or love, kindness or patience, hope or help. Trust that what is truly needed will be provided . . . Give us this day our daily bread.
Now, think of a relationship that needs mending. Perhaps there are hurt feelings, hardness of heart, or weariness of soul. Ask God to bring healing to that relationship. Trust that the Lord is already at work . . . Forgive us, O Lord, and make us a forgiving people.
Finally, consider a place of difficulty or temptation in your life. Feel the weightiness and the challenge of it. Now, ask the Lord to be your safety and protection. Remember that although you may feel weak, God is strong and God is with you . . . Keep us safe from temptation, O God, and deliver us from evil.
As we finish, we might even resolve to try this again, to make a daily discipline of doing what Jesus did. May we find the strength and the vision to live fully and faithfully through simple, heartfelt prayer.
11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for[e] a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? 13 If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”
attending to the presence of the holy in the everyday
“Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks” by Jane Kenyon
“I am the blossom pressed in a book and found again after 200 years . . . I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper . . . When the young girl who starves sits down to a table she will sit beside me . . . I am food on the prisoner’s plate . . . I am water rushing to the wellhead, filling the pitcher until it spills . . . I am the patient gardener of the dry and weedy garden . . . I am the stone step, the latch, and the working hinge . . . I am the heart contracted by joy . . . the longest hair, white before the rest . . . I am the basket of fruit presented to the widow . . . I am the musk rose opening unattended, the fern on the boggy summit . . . I am the one whose love overcomes you, already with you when you think to call my name . . . .”
in Cries of the Spirit, ed. Marilyn Sewell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991. P. 239
When was the last time you saw God? Your answer to that question may depend on whether or not you were paying attention. The witness of scripture assures us that God is always with us.
Sometimes, especially during an Adirondack summer, we can’t miss God. We hear God in loon song, or see God stretched across the Milky Way. Our holy encounters leave us filled with peace and life. At other times, we can be so busy or distracted that we miss God entirely. We may go for days – or even weeks – without the awareness that God is with us. Our self-preoccupation and inattention to the holy can leave us feeling lonely and desolate.
Ignatius of Loyola, a leader of the Counter Reformation of the 16th century, developed a prayer practice that encourages us to spend time each day considering how we have felt close to or far away from God. He called it the Examen (don’t worry, no test will be given). Ignatius believed that, by attending to our daily encounters with the holy, we naturally grow more and more into the will of God for our lives.
Would you like to give it a try? Set aside 15 to 20 minutes for your prayer time. Begin with a moment of silence, reminding yourself that God is with you. You may wish to light a candle or read a verse of scripture.
Silently and prayerfully reflect on your day from beginning to end. First, consider the ways that you have experienced God today. How has God blessed your day? For what are you most grateful today? Next, consider how you have turned away from God’s will for you today. For what are you least grateful this day?
You may wish to use a journal to record what you notice about your day. Or, you could share the Examen with a prayer partner, someone you love and trust. Don’t try to fix things or judge yourself. Just notice, and trust that the Holy Spirit will be at work to help you grow into the person whom God created you to be.
Now, take time to pray. Celebrate God’s blessings and ask for God’s pardon and encouragement.
Conclude your prayer time with a moment of silent thanksgiving for God’s abiding presence. Try doing this every day, if only for a week or two. I promise that you will feel closer to God and more deeply aware of the holiness that is already with us when we think to call God’s name.
“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
Sabbath Day Thoughts — “On Each of Us” Acts 2:1-13
Anyone who has lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time can affirm how hungry we become for the sound of our own language. My classmates and I had been living in Switzerland for about three months when culture shock set in. We were exhausted by trying to decipher the nearly incomprehensible accents of Swiss-German. We were sick of the mockery of Swiss students, who thought we were all cowboys, Madonna, or surfer dudes. We had had more than our fill of sausages, Smurfs, mopeds, bidets, smelly cheese, and toilets with observation platforms.
Then one day, my friends and I were wandering through a labyrinth of displays at a cultural expo when we heard something that made our hearts beat a little faster: the familiar twang of country music. With ears tuned to that beacon, we zeroed in on the source: a booth where women were speaking English, not the clipped rhythm of British English, not the thick brogue of the Scots, not the lilt of the Irish, but real American English. It felt like home: warm, welcoming, and safe.
On that first Pentecost, there were devout Jews living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, from North Africa to Mesopotamia to Rome. I suspect that those who had been sojourning for a long time were hungry for the sound of their mother tongue. They were strangers in a strange land, and no one let them forget it. They were weary of the overweening pride of the priests in the Temple and shocked by the exorbitant price of lodging. They were missing the tastes of home and thoroughly sick of falafel.
Then, as they were walking to morning prayer, came the rush of a violent wind, followed by a sound that was music to their ears. For each one heard in his or her own language the story of God’s great deeds of power and the truth of God’s immeasurable love for them, the love revealed in Jesus. In that foreign city, surrounded by a sea of strange people and foreign languages, each heard the language they most needed to hear. It must have felt like home: warm, welcoming, and safe.
When we think about Pentecost, we tend to focus on the disciples. We remember Peter’s powerful proclamation that inspired 3,000 people to make the choice for Jesus. We imagine Philip finding the courage and vision to take the good news and go to the Samaritans and that Ethiopian eunuch. We consider James, who stayed put in Jerusalem and thanklessly worked, year after year, to teach the Jewish people the gospel of Jesus until his enemies put him to the sword. When the Spirit came with rushing wind and tongues of flame, it empowered those disciples to do extraordinary, heroic, and miraculous deeds in service to the Kingdom of God.
Yet a closer reading of the Pentecost story reminds us that 120 followers of Jesus were gathered together in that place when that wind from God blew and the flames danced above their heads. There were twelve disciples. Another seven men were present who would become the first deacons. There were the largely unnamed women who provided for Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, Susannah, and Joanna. There were Jesus’ brothers and mother. Even if we are generous with the math, that leaves about ninety other people who were there in that Upper Room at Pentecost—ninety people, whom we’ve never heard of, were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost. We don’t know their stories.
Back at that cultural expo in the Basel, Switzerland of my college days, we discovered that those speakers of our mother tongue were American ex-patriot women. Their lives had landed them abroad for decades. They taught at the university or were chemists with CIBA-GEIGY. Their husbands were titans of industry or wizards of global finance. Some had raised families in that foreign land, children who spoke the strange sounds of Swiss-German with just as much fluency as they did English. Each week, those women gathered in one another’s homes to drink coffee, speak English, and navigate together the difficulty of being strangers in a strange land.
They could have been our mothers or grandmothers as they turned to us with the listening ears and compassionate care that we all need when we fear that we are alone in the dark, a long way from home. They didn’t have to be so nice, but they were. Each of them, in her own way, was extraordinary in her ordinary kindness. There were smiles and hugs and cups of coffee. In days to come, there were bowls of chili and slices of apple pie that tasted just like home. And in some way when we were with them, we were home, even if it was only for an hour or so at a time in the midst of that sea of indifferent faces and other languages.
I trust that on that first Pentecost the nameless ninety went out into the streets of Jerusalem to be extraordinary in their ordinary ways. They were kind and welcoming. They listened and cared. They were a lot like those American ex-patriot women I met in Basel. In their willingness to love, they revealed that other love, the Great Love that spins the whirling planets, puffs into our lungs the breath of life, and waits to welcome us at the last. They showed forth the holy love that walked this world in Jesus. Filled with the Spirit, the unknown ninety went forth in their quiet, quaint, and ordinary ways to speak other languages that made the world feel like home to people who feared they were alone in the dark.
As we celebrate that first Pentecost and the falling of the Spirit upon all those named and nameless followers of Jesus, may we remember that the Holy Spirit rests upon each of us. Empowered by the Spirit, some of us may go forth to serve the Kingdom in ways that are truly remarkable and well-worthy of the disciples. Yet most of us will be like the ninety. We’ll go forth to speak the languages that others long to hear in a world that feels lonely, unsafe, and far from home. It may surprise us to learn that we are already fluent in the loving language that Jesus spoke so eloquently, the language that our neighbors long to hear.
We can speak the language of prayer. We’ll lay a hand on the shoulder of a hurting friend and seek some holy help. We’ll pray with the headlines, lifting up the victims of school shootings, natural disasters, and the tragedy of war. We’ll pray for those whom we love, gently naming the worries and fears that plague every family and trusting the Lord to be at work. We are fluent in prayer.
We can speak the language of caring. We’ll feed hungry people with monthly food offerings. We’ll share the gospel of fresh, church-grown vegetables. We’ll testify with toilet paper and paper towels for Grace Pantry. We’ll wrap hurting neighbors in prayer shawls made with love. We’ll cheer friends with the gift of a prayer bear. We’ll bless folks through times of crisis with help from the deacons’ fund. We are fluent in care.
We can speak the language of welcome. We’ll take the time to truly see our vulnerable neighbors, to notice, greet, and listen. We’ll reach out with concern for those who feel invisible, due to advancing age or growing disability. We’ll greet and honor children, whose voices are often dismissed. We’ll embrace diversity as God’s wondrous and stunning plan for humanity. We’ll welcome students who feel like strangers in a strange land as they contend with sub-zero temperatures, long dark winters, and cafeteria food. We are fluent in the language of welcome.
By the power of the Spirit, each of us can be extraordinary in our ordinary, everyday ways. Through our prayer, caring, and welcome, this world may even begin to feel like home for those who fear they are alone in the dark. Let us go forth to speak the languages that others need to hear. Amen.
Karl Kuhn. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 5, 2022. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Debra J. Mumford. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, May 31, 2020. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, June 9, 2019. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Greg Carey. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21” in Preaching This Week, May 20, 2018. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Poem for a Tuesday — “I Yield Thee Praise” by Philip Jerome Cleveland
For thoughts that curve like winging birds
Out of the summer dusk each time
I drink the splendor of the sky
And touch the wood-winds swinging by —
I yield Thee praise.
For waves that lift from autumn seas
To spill strange music on the land,
The broken nocturne of a lark
Flung out upon the lonely dark —
I give Thee praise.
For rain that piles gray torrents down
Black mountain-gullies to the plain,
For singing fields and crimson flare
At daybreak, and the sea-sweet air —
I yield Thee praise.
For gentle mists that wander in
To hide the tired world outside
That in our hearts old lips may smile
Their blessing through life’s afterwhile —
I give Thee praise.
For hopes that fight like stubborn grass
Up through the clinging snow of fear
To find the rich earth richer still
With kindliness and honest will —
I yield Thee praise.
from A Sacrifice of Praise, ed. James H. Trott. Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999.
Philip Jerome Cleveland (1903-1995) was a Congregational minister. His diverse ministry included service as a prison chaplain, a newspaper editor, a radio pianist, and a Sears and Roebuck Santa Claus. He pastored churches in Nova Scotia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. He had several bestselling novels about church life, including It’s Bright in My Valley, Three Churches and a Model-T, and End of Dreams. After his death, a portion of his manuscripts, articles, and papers were acquired by The University of Southern Mississippi — de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection
“Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory.”
As psalms go, it isn’t the prettiest. In fact, much of it is existential angst about the prosperity and popularity of the arrogant and wicked, which apparently was as commonplace in the Biblical world as it sometimes feels in ours. But sandwiched amid the despair and disappointment are two verse of sheer grace. The psalm writer describes God in tender terms. Like a caring guardian and guide, God walks with us, holding our hand and providing the wise words that are needed most. There’s a beautiful promise, too, of honor and glory to come.
Unless we live a very charmed life, we all have days when we could use a holy friend to hold our hand and whisper reassurance. At the risk of sounding like a whiney psalmist, I’ll admit that there are day when I wouldn’t mind being first in line for the cosmic handhold, even if my problems are universally “first world” and smack of privilege. I work too much. I minister to folks in crisis. I cry most days over the dog who died in January. I have a parent undergoing surgery. I’m so sick of COVID that my eyelid begins to twitch when I hear the possibility of new mask mandates. I live in an historic home amid an ocean of honey-dos (Please, Lord, let the bathroom be finished sometime soon). The slugs are taking over the garden — and the deer just ate my daylily buds, which were liberally sprayed with deer repellant last night. Really? That’s my moment of existential angst.
How about you? Take a second and let it rip. I won’t tell anyone.
But maybe today, amid the despair, disappointment, and Delta-variant, we can claim the psalmist’s truth: God holds our hand and walks alongside. Can you imagine it? Take a quiet moment. Place one hand in the other. Breathe deeply, use your imagination, and listen with the ear of your heart. God is with you, like a patient and loving parent; like your best friend from elementary school; like Jesus, who called his disciples his friends. Thanks be to God.
“Oppose my opponents, Lord; fight those who fight me. Take your shields–large and small–and come to my aid. Draw the spear and the javelin against my pursuers, and assure me: ‘I am your deliverance.'”
– Psalm 35:1-3
That David. He sure could write a poem – raw, intense, and gritty. From the verses that I share above, David goes on to further invoke God’s protection, judgment, and wrath against those who oppose him. Take a moment to read Psalm thirty-five. You’ll be glad you did. If you are familiar with scripture, the verses may evoke the painful difficulties of David’s life: from the wrath of King Saul to serving as a double agent with the Philistines, from the contempt of his wife Michal to the betrayal of his son Absalom. David needed a God who would be his shield.
I like the notion of God fighting for me, weighing into the fray and using a big shield to guard me while getting some powerful licks in against the “enemy.” The most poignant part of the psalm comes in verse twelve when it becomes clear that David wasn’t writing about adversaries on the battlefield. He was coping with everyday enemies, people for whom he had prayed, fasted, and cared deeply through times of hardship, sickness, or trouble. David’s compassion was rewarded with mockery, betrayal, and ridicule. He must have felt terribly alone.
We may not face the same difficulties that David did, but his words stir within us memories of old hurts and betrayals: the colleague who took credit for our hard work, the sibling who drove a wedge in our family harmony, the spouse who walked out the door, the friend who broke our trust and spilled our secrets in harmful, hurtful ways. Those difficulties may not be personal; they may be systemic. The playing field isn’t level for people of color. Women still struggle for equal pay and professional opportunity. Grey hair and crow’s feet may render us invisible in a culture that prizes youth. Of course, “enemies” can be figurative: the silent spread of cancer, the slow creep of age, the pain of past abuse. What or who are the “enemies” that press in upon you today?
I am grateful to know that God–who chose to walk among us in Jesus–is with me in all those difficult circumstances. The Lord is with you in all that makes you say, “Woe!” I like to imagine that on the days when I, like David, feel terribly alone, God’s mighty shield surrounds me. Active in battle and always victorious, the Lord parries, thrusts, and repels. The Lord, mighty in battle, is more than a match for all those “enemies” that preoccupy our thoughts and fill us with woe.
I suspect that Psalm 35 inspired Patrick of Ireland in the fifth century to write the prayer that has become known as the lorica or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” The word lorica is Latin. It alludes to the body armor worn by Roman soldiers to protect them in battle. Patrick knew enemies. He dedicated his life to sharing the gospel with the very people who had enslaved him for six years. The prayer, like a magic spell woven around the body, invokes God’s powerful protection. It has long been used as a “Prayer Upon Arising,” a morning prayer to invoke the help of God for the day to come. As you go forth into your day, may you remember the words of Psalm 35–and Patrick of Ireland. The Lord is fighting for you.
Blest be the tie!
“St. Patrick’s Breastplate”
I bind unto myself today The strong Name of the Trinity, By invocation of the same, The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever. By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan river; His death on Cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spicèd tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming at the day of doom;* I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power Of the great love of the cherubim; The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour, The service of the seraphim, Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word, The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls, All good deeds done unto the Lord, And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today The virtues of the starlit heaven, The glorious sun’s life-giving ray, The whiteness of the moon at even, The flashing of the lightning free, The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, The stable earth, the deep salt sea, Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin, The vice that gives temptation force, The natural lusts that war within, The hostile men that mar my course; Or few or many, far or nigh, In every place and in all hours, Against their fierce hostility, I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles, Against false words of heresy, Against the knowledge that defiles, Against the heart’s idolatry, Against the wizard’s evil craft, Against the death wound and the burning, The choking wave and the poisoned shaft, Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name, The strong Name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same. The Three in One, and One in Three, Of Whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.