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The dawn was golden, and the valley before me glistened, even the evergreens seemed to reflect a crimson light, and the distant, northern mountains, purple tinged with rose where the snow still lay. And I remembered. It is the morning of the third month’s eighteenth day. Taking up where night left off, I read and pray the psalms of the day, coming first upon an old man, holy prophet Moses, singing with the confidence that comes from seeing God.
Lord, You have been our refuge age after age.
Before the mountains were born,
before the earth or the world came to birth,
You were God from all eternity and for ever.
You can turn man back into dust
by saying, ‘Back to what you were, you sons of men!’
To You, a thousand years are a single day,
a yesterday now over, an hour of the night.
You brush men away like waking dreams,
they are like grass
sprouting and flowering in the morning,
withered and dry before dusk…
He doesn’t mince words. He is honest before the Lord, and those words drive deep into my soul, as I continue, and through them, I pray.
Teach us to count how few days we have
and so gain wisdom of heart.
And then I come upon the end of his psalm and realize, ‘These are the words with which we used to close our family evening prayers, making of them an antiphon.’
Let us wake in the morning filled with Your love
and sing and be happy all our days…
May the sweetness of the Lord be upon us!
Make all we do succeed.
After which we closed with, ‘Let us bless the Lord!’ and ‘Thanks be to God.’ All this part of our heritage in the Anglican Church. And I remembered those blessed times, small sons and wife and I, in the quiet evening.
Then the psalm of God’s protection met me.
If you live in the shelter of Elyon
and make your home in the shadow of Shaddai,
you can say to Yahweh, ‘My refuge, my fortress,
my God in whom I trust!’
Here, as always, I pause to delight in the poetry of the names of the Divine Being… Elyon, Shaddai, Yahweh, Elohai, and I cannot resist. I reach for my Tehillim so I can pronounce this stanza in the original Hebrew.
Yoshév b’séter Elyon, b’tsél Shadday yitlonan, omar l’Adonay:
machsí umtsudatí, Elohay evtach bo.
Elohay evtach bo, yes, my God, I trust You.
He rescues you from the snares
of fowlers hoping to destroy you;
He covers you with His feathers,
and you find shelter underneath His wings.
You need not fear the terrors of night,
the arrow that flies in the daytime,
the plague that stalks in the dark,
the scourge that wreaks havoc in broad daylight.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
you yourself will remain unscathed,
with His faithfulness for shield and buckler.
These are the assurances He gives to those engaged in battle, to the soldier, to the combatant, and here I sit, enthralled by the beauty and the quiet of the morning. Yet I too, in my small way, have fought battles, engaged mortal enemies, and according to His promises here, He has always saved me.
No disaster can overtake you,
no plague come near your tent:
He will put you in His angels’ charge
to guard you wherever you go.
They will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone;
you will tread on lion and adder,
trample on savage lions and dragons.
‘He will put you in His angels’ charge,’ the taunt offered by the adversary to Christ fasting in the wilderness, and look what happened to Him in the end, I tell myself. History does not always bear out God’s promises in the way we expect. Yet we do not always see the course of time as it really is, nor do we know what the world is. Nor does God reveal His plans to just anyone, but to those who trust His promises, no matter what things look like.
‘I rescue all who cling to Me,
I protect whoever knows My name,
I answer everyone who invokes me,
I am with them when they are in trouble;
I bring them safety and honor.
I give them life, long and full,
and show them how I can save.’
If I am not rescued, to whom do I cling? If I was not protected, whose name did I own? If my prayer was not answered, whom did I invoke? If in trouble I had none to help me, if I was denied safety and honor, if my life was empty, then I never trusted Him to save me. But no, my Lord, not by anything in me but by your mercies, You have fulfilled all Your promises to me, and I am satisfied.
It is good to give thanks to Yahweh,
to play in honor of Your name, Most High,
to proclaim Your love at daybreak
and Your faithfulness all through the night
to the music of the zither and lyre,
to the rippling of the harp.
I am happy, Yahweh, at what You have done;
at Your achievements I joyfully exclaim,
‘Great are Your achievements, Yahweh,
immensely deep Your thoughts!’
I ponder as I pray the psalms, and remember the saints whose lives in Christ made them lights in the world, especially my beloved Francesco, whom the Pope blessed with the words found here, ‘may your disciples flourish like palm trees.’
…so the virtuous flourish like palm trees
and grow as tall as the cedars of Lebanon.
Planted in the house of Yahweh,
they will flourish in the courts of our God,
still bearing fruit in old age,
still remaining fresh and green,
to proclaim that Yahweh is righteous,
my rock in whom no fault is to be found!
I remember the glorious elders, my fathers and mothers in Christ, without striving for youth they remained young and full of life, fresher and greener than us who were their children. Lord, may we accompany them as they faithfully follow You, and receive the same mercy from You that we do not deserve.
Like every other mortal, I must go now to the work that lies ahead of me this day, but I am fed on the bread of heaven more than mere manna, for the Word of God does not stint us of His provision, that is, Himself, for He is with us. Yes, our God, in Christ, is with us.
Yahweh is King, robed in majesty,
Yahweh is robed in power,
He wears it like a belt.
You have made the world firm, unshakable;
Your throne has stood since then,
You existed from the first, Yahweh.
Yahweh, the rivers raise,
the rivers raise their voices,
the rivers raise their thunders;
greater than the voice of ocean,
transcending the waves of the sea,
Yahweh reigns transcendent in the heights.
Your decrees will never alter;
holiness will distinguish Your house,
Yahweh, for ever and ever.
Yes, Lord, You our God are with us, and we need not fear, for what the psalmist sings is true, age after age.
I need only say, ‘I am slipping,’ and Your love, Yahweh, immediately supports me.
Thanks be to God.