Monday, August 4, 2014

Morning Has Broken (Us)

Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.
The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love will enter your house,
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction;
their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.
Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
so that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover them with favor as with a shield.
Psalm 5

Reflection – We have here a generic ‘morning psalm’, a prayer for the break of the day. The Church currently places it liturgically as the first psalm of Lauds on Monday of the first week of the psalter, which in a sense gives it a certain prominence as the pattern of morning prayer psalmody.

Do you ever wake up in the morning with a certain sense of dread at what the day holds for you? Some people are able to wake up with great cheerful attitudes, a song on their lips and a ready smile on their face, but many find those first waking minutes of the day a little less than joyous. The burdens and cares of the day, the intractable problems that everyone’s life holds, the immediate call to serve and do and labor can all crowd around us and make the first thoughts and sentiments of the day not the happiest ones.

I fall somewhere in the middle on that scale, but certainly on especially busy and heavily burdened days I can have that terrible morning gloom, at least until my faith and, truth be told, that first cup of coffee kick in to bring me to a better place.

But this psalm is very relevant to that. We can hear a phrase like ‘generic morning prayer’ and start thinking of a hymn like ‘Morning Has Broken’, complete with the Cat Stevens piano accompaniment. And the Church does call us to exultant praise of God in the morning—the second psalm of Lauds every day is a praise psalm.

But morning is not only a time of praise, as our own emotions testify. Morning has not only broken; some days, morning breaks us. And the Church anticipates this, and gives us words to bring before the Lord that correspond to that breaking, that heaviness of the first hour of the day.
‘Hear me, Lord… listen to my case… I have enemies (or, we might say, problems)… help me with them… I bow down before you… lead me… I will sing for joy in your presence.’

Note that the psalm finds us where many of us start in the morning—needing help, beleaguered, overwhelmed perhaps with the pressures of the day. But it doesn’t just leave us there, whining to God about how hard it all is. It meets us there, and then moves us from that place—crying out for God to hear us and help us—to a movement of bowing in reverent submission and awe before Him, and a humble asking for Him to lead us and guide us, show us what to do, how to do it, where to go, what to say, and so have our day conformed to His plan, and so enter into joy and praise.

There is a whole spiritual catechesis in this psalm, then, isn’t there? It’s OK to be grumpy in the morning, OK to start the day feeling a little sorry for ourselves, a little weighed down by life and (probably) not quite enough sleep. But it’s not OK to stay there, to just leave ourselves in that lousy mood until we’re not there any more.

No, we have to bring ourselves before the Lord in this, and make godly choices in the face of whatever our mood may be, ask God’s help for sure with our problems, but then go deeper spiritually in the face of them. Even the cheerful happy morning person needs to do the same thing, and begin the day with a reverent prayer for God’s guidance and help, to seek God’s face and beg his mercy as we begin the day. And so, as we begin this day and this week together, let us pray for one another that we can do just that, and so enter into the joy of God.