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.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be prey for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Reflection – And so we come to one of the pivotal psalms of the whole psalter. This psalm has such a central place in Christian worship that its importance can hardly be overstated. It is the first psalm at Lauds for Sunday Week One of the psalter, but this means that it is prayed on virtually every major feast day of the Church year, and for each day of the Octaves of Easter and Christmas.
It is chock full with imagery that for a Christian are sacramental, Christological, and pneumatological (uhh, that’s a big word for ‘referring to the Holy Spirit'). There is water and thirst, so baptism. There is hunger and feasting, so Eucharist. There is the shadow of God’s wings, so the Spirit, the Crimson Dove. There is the King, so Christ.
But all of this is in the context of a great personal love and delight of the believer in God. If you want a Scripture that is all about having a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’, to use the modern parlance, this is the one for you. Pray this psalm out loud, mean it, take it to heart, really meditate on its verses and its imagery, and you will begin to awaken a personal love for God and for Jesus Christ in yourself. His Word can do that for you, and this Word in particular can do that for you.
What does it mean, anyhow, to have a ‘personal relationship’ with God? I have to be honest and admit that I don’t really like that phrase, for reasons that I’ve never been able to fully articulate. There’s something about it, and especially about the fact that it is often presented as being the most important thing possible, the very question on which hinges our whole faith life, that makes me uneasy.
I think it is because in our culture of sentimentality and feelings first, it translates to having all sorts of appropriate emotions about Jesus Christ on any given day. Myself, I have never been able to summon up appropriate emotions about any subject on any day (I seem to be wired a bit differently from most people that way), and even if I could, I simply refuse to believe that the health of our spiritual life is contingent on having the right emotional response to God. It just makes no sense to me.
But a personal relationship with God seems to me, in its better meaning, to mean precisely what this psalm says: knowing our poverty, knowing that we are dry and weary land indeed, that we hunger and thirst and need… and that there is One and One Alone who can meet that need, who can make our life fruitful, who can fill us. And from that knowledge of our poverty and knowledge of His fullness, our hearts and minds turn to Him, simply, continually, naturally.
We gaze upon Him in the sanctuary (great psalm to pray at Adoration!), His praise is on our lips (Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!), we think of Him in the night (pray the name of Jesus on those nights when sleep eludes you), and sing of Him (whether you can carry a tune or not).
Not because we are all emotional and wrought up about God, but because, well… because we believe this stuff is true. Like… really, really true. Not some nice idea or the power of positive thinking or foolishness like that. Truth. Him. Real. God. That kind of thing. And this psalm is one of the great masterpieces of inspired Scripture, one of the great ways to express and foster that faith in ourselves, and that is why the Church has made it such a prominent part of its common prayer, and why we should make it part of our personal prayer lives, too.