Psalm 63

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
   my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
   as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
   beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
   my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
   I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
   and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
   and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
   and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
   your right hand upholds me.

I used to rise early for morning prayer when I was in seminary at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. At 6:30 AM, a few of us would gather in the small Rustin Teaching Chapel to sing the morning prayer liturgy together. It was a discipline; a discipline that ushered me into a presence that “satisfied as with a rich feast.”

The morning prayer liturgies were repetitive—this was part of its glory. Each sung psalm, each recurring prayer, the acclamation of light, and the same hymns became like old dear friends. In a culture of immediacy, instant messaging, and information superhighways these old words, these worn-out psalms, these metered hymn-tunes from the 18th century, and a simple lit candle became accompaniment to life itself.

Through them, morning by morning, the poetics and melody of one sung psalm in particular played like a cantus firmus in the chaos of my mental living room; it still functions for me as a velvety cushion into which I fall, exhausted, in need—my soul thirsting, my flesh fainting for God alone. Psalm 63. I can hear it right now as I write it and that is such a gift.

It starts with the antiphon, “In the shadow of your wings, I sing for joy” and then, one voice rising above all others, “O God you are my God, and I long for you from early morning; my soul thirsts for you for you have always been my help…’ This psalm unabashedly narrates the soul’s honest and raw desire for God and for the deep and abiding joy that comes from God alone. It is nearly embarrassing when said or sung or contemplated in a world where we are invited to speed up not slow down, where we are shamed if we cannot “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps,” and where thirsting or fainting for God is cause for therapeutic alarm rather than spiritual communion.

And yet, the deepest and most affective moments, for me, have arisen at moments when my exhaustion with the world and my countless attempts at self-sufficiency have ended in a plea for help. This psalm, and the spirituality it confesses, is the antidote, the oasis, the cure for my soul that is like a “dry and weary land.” Why not just come out and say it? I am a sad person without the love and joy of my God and this psalm reminds me, once again, of God’s readiness to be in relationship and my deep need for one. In the shadow of your wings, I sing for you. Indeed. May it be so.

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 A Season of Becoming: Restoring and being restored for the transformation of the church and world

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