The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.
Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord.
Reflection – The Monday Psalter delivers up to us today one of the most lyrically beautiful psalms in the entire canon. Psalm 27, that wonderful meditation on the beauty of God, His beautiful Face, and the longing of the human heart to behold that face, to gaze upon that beauty, to live in the house of the Lord.
I believe that one of the great tragedies of humanity in general, but even more acutely of humanity in our times, is that the previous sentence would be a meaningless jumble of words, or a banal pious waffle, to a large percentage of people. We do, indeed, desire to gaze upon the beauty of God… but we don’t know that’s what we desire. What are we hungry for when we don’t know what we’re hungry for? God, that’s what. Or, rather, who.
And so we plunge into creatures, looking for that which awaits us in God. We thrash around with sex and money and possessions, thrills and distractions and diversions, never quite finding what we want, because what we want is none of these things exactly, but is only to be found in the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
All of these phrases meant one thing to the psalmist when he wrote them—God would preserve his life, and he would be able to go to Jerusalem and the temple there. Gazing upon God meant gazing upon the sanctuary of the temple.
But of course he was writing under the Spirit’s inspiration, and so the words have a life in them which has grown, like yeast in bread, to expand to utterly new meanings. The land of the living is indeed heaven; God has a human face, now, the beholding of which should be the consuming passion of our lives, the longing that keeps us pointed God-ward and heaven-ward, that enables us to radically choose to forego any created good for its sake.
This is a good Lenten psalm, really. Lent is not just a heavy time to berate ourselves for our sins and failures. In fact, that’s not really the point of it at all. It is a time to stir up in ourselves a desire for the All-Desirable One, a longing for the All-Beautiful One. And this psalm, itself so beautifully written, so evocative of that desire for God, is a good prayer for us as we embark on these early days of the Lenten journey. So let’s pray it in that spirit.