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The morning of the fourteenth day. As soon as I take notice, I remember how the psalms will open, with ‘An old man’s prayer,’ whose words I once prayed when my hair and beard were dark, when I felt thrust forward to the time when they would be white. Yet, even then, the words made sense to me; they prophesied of me to myself. From my first learning of the psalms that were prayed on the day of my birth, the eighth day, straightaway in their verses I could see my life laid out, an oracle to my soul, a light to prove the way that the Lord has assigned to me, from beginning to end, a bit more each time I prayed.
But the fourteenth—this day was like a second day of birth: on the fourteenth of the month my mother came home with me from the hospital where I was born. She thought it was auspicious and told me so, because it was the feast day of St Valentine, the Christian ‘cupid’ but also the harbinger of innocent, selfless love, childlike love. I never forgot that. So when I began to offer the psalms of the day as my prayer, I noticed the verses of this day also spoke to me, prophetically, just as much an oracle to my soul as those of the eighth day. It didn’t surprise me that they opened with ‘An old man’s prayer.’
My life has been a study in irony, opening to me the inherent, though often hidden, paradox of existence. As a young man, I was already old, the senior of people chronologically older than me. Now, as an old man, I am young, a junior even to my own sons, and down to the level even of my lifestyle, which is almost identical to that of my college years—study, pray, mentor, show mercy, stay low. These thoughts of mine rising from the reading of the psalms of the fourteenth day, being prayer fulfilled as much as prayer offered, I want nothing more than to praise the God who walks with me in these songs.
An old man's prayer
In You, Yahweh, I take shelter;
never let me be disgraced.
In Your righteousness rescue me, deliver me,
turn Your ear to me and save me!
Be a sheltering rock for me,
a walled fortress to save me!
For You are my rock, my fortress.
My God, rescue me from the hands of the wicked,
from the clutches of rogue and tyrant!
As I pray these lines, I offer them as thanksgiving, for He has already done these things for me, even from the beginning of my life, even before I knew to ask.
For You alone are my hope, Lord,
Yahweh, I have trusted You since my youth,
I have relied on You since I was born,
You have been my portion from my mother's womb,
and the constant theme of my praise.
Yes, ‘from my mother’s womb.’ That which God has made us, He made us from the beginning. I’ve read that there are different personality types, but I can’t remember where. One of these types was called the ‘priestly’ type, people whose pressing concern is for the transcendent. Some of these types do actually become priests, monastics, and other kinds of ‘religious.’ I thought of that too, but He who instructs me inwardly simply said, ‘Be a husband and father: that is enough.’
To many I have seemed an enigma,
but You are my firm refuge.
My mouth is full of Your praises,
filled with Your splendor all day long.
There’s that pointed verse again! ‘To many I have seemed an enigma.’ Yes, even to myself. As I pray on the twenty-ninth day, ‘I pour out my supplications, I unfold all my troubles; my spirit fails me, but You, You know my path’ (Psalm 142:2-3). Yes, He knows all about me—everything! and He is with me, with you and me, with us, at every point along the path He has set before us.
Do not reject me now I am old,
nor desert me now my strength is failing…
He knows even about this—that my merely human, physical nature is declining toward its close, yet this prayer too He has answered long before I ever made my request.
I promise that, ever hopeful,
I will praise you more and more,
my lips shall proclaim Your righteousness
and power to save, all day long.
Yes, Lord, the only promise I can make, knowing my own weaknesses as I do, that I shall not abandon hope no matter what, that I shall praise you even when, not if, I fall, because I proclaim Your righteousness, never mine, and in my very flesh prove Your power to save, at every moment.
I will come in the power of Yahweh
to commemorate Your righteousness,
For it is only by Your power, Lord, that I can will or do any good thing, and it is Your righteousness alone, that is worthy of praise.
God, You taught me when I was young,
now I am still proclaiming Your marvels.
And I am still losing enemies and winning friends, as they who hate You come to hate me and take their leave of me, as they who love You come to love me and take their stand with me.
Now that I am old and gray,
God, do not desert me;
let me live to tell the rising generation
about Your strength and power,
about Your heavenly righteousness, God.
‘What else is there to do?’ asks my soul when I come to these words. What else is there to do? You are the God who has done everything for me. You have been merciful to me in everything, yes, in everything.
You have done great things;
who, God, is comparable to You?
You have sent me misery and hardship,
but You will give me life again,
You will pull me up again
from the depths of the earth,
prolong my old age,
and once again comfort me.
What ‘misery and hardship’ have You sent me, Lord, that You have not turned to blessing? Even what mortal death have You decreed for this old body, that You shall not turn to immortality for me? Yes, those who love you, who pay forward the mercy You show them, will live again, our elements pulled up again from the depths. Old age shall be no more a burden, but a delight, and a comfort.
And this old man’s prayer shall be shown to be what it always was, a child’s praise.