Monday, July 28, 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

When I call, answer me O God of justice!
From anguish you released me; have mercy and hear me.
O men, how long will your hearts be closed,
Will you love what is futile and seek what is false?

It is the Lord who grants favors to those whom he loves;
The Lord hears me whenever I call him.
Fear him; do not sin: ponder on your bed and be still.
Makes justice your sacrifice and trust in the Lord.

‘What can bring us happiness?’, many say.
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord.
You have put into my heart a greater joy
Than they have from abundance of corn and new wine.
I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once
For you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 4

Reflection – Monday Psalter time again. This one is offered, logically, as one of the psalms of Compline, the night office that is prayed before bedtime in the Liturgy of the Hours. All of the language of pondering God on your bed and lying down in peace and sleeping in safety is, of course, fitting sentiment for that hour of the day.

I believe the psalms are arranged biblically at least some of the time to have some relation to each other, and we certainly see here allusions to Psalms 1-3, a development of thought from the first three psalms we have read.

Psalm 1 with its classic ‘two ways’ dichotomy, the way of the righteous and wise and the way of the wicked and foolish, is here again. Here, again, we see that contrast—those who love what is false and futile versus those who seek the light of the face of God.

Psalm 2 introduced the note of conflict, of a war raging in the world against God, and the sovereignty of God and his anointed one. Psalm 3 placed us in the heart of that battle, besieged and beleaguered by enemies far more powerful than us, but with a deep assurance of God’s deliverance.

That deliverance was expressed by the image of lying down to sleep and waking to find God has won the victory. So Psalm 4 now is a sort of peaceful meditation on everything that has gone before—we see the two camps in the world, we see the utter futility and folly of the one opposed to God, we see that a fierce battle is raging, but we rest secure in God’s power to save, to deliver his people.

It seems to me that this is always the repeating pattern of life in this world, until we see God face to face in the next. We move from a decision of faith to walk in the path of the righteous and reject the way of sin; we encounter opposition, within and without, to that decision and find ourselves in a battle indeed. The Lord and his Anointed, his Christ, are in the battle with us, but we still find experience ourselves as deeply imperiled, outnumbered and outgunned.

And then… the moment of deliverance, so mysterious, so strangely hard to define or describe. It happens when we sleep. Let us never forget that sleep, while an image of trust and confidence in God, is also a biblical image of the mystical life, of the moment when God directly acts upon us without our knowledge or cooperation.

God acts to save us in a way that is ultimately a mystical grace, something entirely His and so entirely hidden from us. But from this salvation, this mysterious encounter and the movement from battle and peril to peace and quiet, we utter this psalm, Psalm 4, reflecting again on the wisdom of the choice we have made, the choice for God, but now knowing a little more of the cost of that choice and the joy and happiness that arises from it.

It is a very deep little psalm, very mystical, very much a reflection of profound spiritual experience and meditation. And so it helps us to get there, too, and this is a good example indeed of why praying the psalms is such a core element of our Christian prayer, both liturgical and personal.