20170428

The Vanity of Man as Mortal

If my life is surrendered to God, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were in peril in His hand but would be safer in mine!

―Elisabeth Elliot

Scripture: Psalm 39.4, 7

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.

Reflection: The Vanity of Man as Mortal 

By Steven Dilla

As an infant, Isaac Watts “nursed on the steps of the Southampton jail where his father was imprisoned as a Dissenter,” says his biography at the Poetry Foundation. Upon his release, the elder Watts, also named Isaac, began teaching Latin to his four year old son. In primary school the boy learned Greek, French, and Hebrew.

While Watts is remembered for his poetry and hymns, like Joy to the World and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, he was successful across multiple disciplines. The Poetry Foundation notes that after his formal education concluded, “Watts was to become a prominent educator whose textbooks and educational theory were republished in Britain and America for more than a century.” He also published four volumes of poetry, 750 hymns, hundreds of sermons, and seven books that span a number of fields.

In all this success Watts grounded himself in the scriptures and prayer. His book, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, provides a glimpse into this world. This week we’re looking at five works where Watts rewords the Psalms to make overt what the psalmists allude — Christ is at the center of every longing, joy, and cry.

Today, we look at Isaac Watts’ words, inspired by Psalm 39:

Teach me the measure of my days,
  Thou Maker of my frame;
I would survey life’s narrow space,
  And learn how frail I am.

A span is all that we can boast,
  An inch or two of time;
Man is but vanity and dust
  In all his flower and prime.

See the vain race of mortals move
  Like shadows o’er the plain;
They rage and strive, desire and love,
  But all the noise is vain.

Some walk in honor’s gaudy show,
  Some dig for golden ore;
They toil for heirs, they know not who,
  And straight are seen no more.

What should I wish or wait for, then,
  From creatures earth and dust?
They make our expectations vain,
  And disappoint our trust.

Now I forbid my carnal hope,
  My fond desires recall;
I give my mortal interest up,
  And make my God my all.

 

The Call to Prayer

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. —Psalm 96.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 5 (Listen – 4:39)
Psalm 39 (Listen – 1:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 6 (Listen – 4:04) Psalm 40-41 (Listen – 3:57)
Numbers 7 (Listen – 12:50) Psalm 42-43 (Listen – 2:32)

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20170427

Guilt Of Conscience And Relief

Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.

―Viktor Frankl

Scripture: Psalm 38.1, 22

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!

Reflection: Guilt Of Conscience And Relief
By Steven Dilla

The psalms anticipate Christ with brilliant clarity and longing. In response to this, Isaac Watts, the 18th century theologian, hymnodist, poet, and preacher, drew from them at length in his work. One of Watts’ most famous songs, Joy to the World, recasts Psalm 98 in common measure.

In his book Sacred Song in America, Stephen Marini notes that one of the reasons Watts’ works are so enduring is that they balance emotional subjectivity and doctrinal objectivity. “Watts’ voice broke down the distance between poet and singer and invested the text with personal spirituality.”

Watts’ work from the Psalms brings insight while making overt what the psalmists allude — Christ at the center of every longing, joy, and cry.

Watts responses to Psalms 38 in his book, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, bringing the ancient song into modern light:

Amidst thy wrath remember love,
  Restore thy servant, Lord;
Nor let a Father’s chast’ning prove
  Like an avenger’s sword.

Thine arrows stick within my heart,
  My flesh is sorely pressed;
Between the sorrow and the smart,
  My spirit finds no rest.

My sins a heavy load appear,
  And o’er my head are gone;
Too heavy they for me to bear,
  Too hard for me t’ atone.

My thoughts are like a troubled sea,
My head still bending down;
And I go mourning all the day,
Beneath my Father’s frown.

Lord, I am weak and broken sore,
  None of my powers are whole:
The inward anguish makes me roar,
  The anguish of my soul.

All my desire to thee is known,
  Thine eye counts every tear;
And every sigh, and every groan,
  Is noticed by thine ear.

Thou art my God, my only hope;
  My God will hear my cry;
My God will bear my spirit up,
  When Satan bids me die.

My foot is ever apt to slide,
  My foes rejoice to see ’t;
They raise their pleasure and their pride
  When they supplant my feet.

But I’ll confess my guilt to thee,
  And grieve for all my sin;
I’ll mourn how weak my graces be,
  And beg support divine.

My God, forgive my follies past,
  And be for ever nigh;
O Lord of my salvation, haste,
  Before thy servant die.

The Call to Prayer

Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. —Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 4 (Listen – 6:11)
Psalm 38 (Listen – 2:14)

 

20170426

Desertion and Hope

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see.

―C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Psalm 37.5-6

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.

Reflection: Desertion and Hope
By Steven Dilla

“As congregational song, hymns were an extraordinary kind of poetry,” notes the Poetry Foundation in their biography page for the hymnist Isaac Watts. “It is no coincidence that Watts, as [the] originator [of hundreds of hymns], was both an accomplished poet and a recognized religious leader and teacher. His admiration of dramatic effects and familiarity with devotional imagery served him particularly well. Indeed, hymns depended for their success on real pleasures, on their value as entertainment. Insipid or obtuse poetry would fail to provoke the desired response.”

For Watts the real pleasure wasn’t simply the craft, at which he was immensely talented, but the glory and beauty of the Savior his words beheld.

“If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious,” writes C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory.

Watts found God’s beauty in the community of the church. His hymn drawn from Psalm 42 reveals this even in its alternative title: Complaint of Absence from Public Worship. Desertion from the church lead him to cry out—hope was found when he returned to the wonders of God incarnate in the joy and trial of community.

Today we look at Isaac Watts’ paraphrase about trusting God, from his book The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, inspired by Psalm 42:

With earnest longings of the mind,
  My God, to thee I look;
So pants the hunted hart to find
  And taste the cooling brook.

When shall I see thy courts of grace,
  And meet my God again?
So long an absence from thy face
  My heart endures with pain.

Temptations vex my weary soul,
  And tears are my repast;
The foe insults without control,
  “And where’s your God at last?”

’Tis with a mournful pleasure now
  I think on ancient days;
Then to thy house did numbers go,
  And all our work was praise.

But why, my soul, sunk down so far
  Beneath this heavy load?
Why do my thoughts indulge despair,
  And sin against my God?

Hope in the Lord, whose mighty hand
  Can all thy woes remove,
For I shall yet before him stand,
  And sing restoring love.

The Call to Prayer

Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble. —Psalm 55:24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 3 (Listen – 6:01)
Psalm 37 (Listen – 4:21)

 

20170425

No Nation Can Live Alone

The hour is late and the clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it is too late.

―Martin Luther King Jr.

Scripture: Psalm 36.5

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Reflection: No Nation Can Live Alone
By Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

If the American Dream is to be a reality we must develop a world perspective. It goes without saying that the world in which we live is geographically one, and now more than ever before we are challenged to make it one in terms of brotherhood.

Through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood, and now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. This is the challenge of the hour. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone. Somehow we are interdependent.

John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

I think this is the first challenge and it is necessary to meet it in order to move on toward the realization of the American Dream, the dream of men of all races, creeds, national backgrounds, living together as brothers.

Now the other myth that is disseminated is the idea that legislation and judicial decrees and executive orders from the President cannot really solve the problem of racial injustice, only education and religion can do that.

Behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

With this faith we will be able to move into this new day. With this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

This will be a great day. This will be the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

*Excerpt from The American Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.

Prayer

When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad. —Psalm 14.7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 2 (Listen – 3:47)
Psalm 36 (Listen – 1:29)

 

20170424

Praying Beyond Ourselves

The focus of prayer is not the self. It is the momentary disregard of our personal concerns, the absence of self-centered thoughts, which constitute the act of prayer. Feeling becomes prayer in the moment in which we forget ourselves and become aware of God.

―Abraham Joshua Heschel

Scripture: Psalm 35.1

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

Reflection: Praying Beyond Ourselves
By Steven Dilla

Taken in isolation, the Psalmist’s brazen prayers for preservation of self can seem the opposite of healthy religion. Our default setting tends to be prayer for ourselves—yet religion is supposed to lead us into deeper levels of thought and care of those around us and the world we live in.

Those seeking to deepen their prayer lives today must note that the Psalmist isn’t rebuked for his prayer. While the level and extent to which God answered this prayer is unknown, we do know that this is far from the last prayer David penned in the Psalms.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann observes that David’s prayer life in the Psalms follows two transitions. The first is from a orientation around the principles of faith to the disorienting depths of seeing evil succeed against those principles in our world. In modern terms, this is the transition that happens when pain and suffering stretch us beyond the elementary answers and pleasantries of cultural faith.

It is impossible, Brueggemann explains, to return to the simplistic stage of orientation once life has fallen apart. The only two choices are to lose faith or grow into a new orientation—this second move brings a person to a more robust and nuanced way of understanding God and the world.

While the cries of Psalm 35 come early in David’s life—while he is still trying to project the outcomes of an idealistic faith onto the world in order to give it order—they are a key part step on his journey. As he grows in faith, David begins to love his neighbor as himself.

Perhaps this is why David isn’t rebuked in the first place. Idolatry of self is not defeated through low self esteem, but through exceeding esteem for others. It is rare I lose sleep over my neighbors struggles—a sign I’m still caught up with myself.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. —Psalm 31.24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 1 (Listen – 6:21)
Psalm 35 (Listen – 3:21)