My Soul Waits

EPIPHANY PRAYER: Epiphany by Martin Shannon

January 6, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 72 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! (v. 11) Psalm 72 is the culmination of Book II in the Psalter, which began with Psalm 42, called the “prayers of David,” (v. 20) – not that David necessarily wrote all these psalms, but they at least represent the spirit of David’s hopes and desires before the Lord.  They are in keeping with a heart that followed after God’s own heart, (see 1 Samuel 13:14, 16:7).  Scholars tell us that Psalm 72 probably was written for the coronation of a king of Judea and Israel, perhaps even by David himself for his son Solomon.  In any case, the prayer came to be used at the coronation ceremonies of subsequent kings, and possibly at the yearly [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 5 by Martin Shannon

January 5, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 100 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the Earth. Worship the Lord with gladness. (vv. 1-2) Psalm 100 is the final in a series of psalms (95-100) that have been grouped together to celebrate the glorious reign of God over all Heaven and Earth.  Remember that the Psalter is actually a prayer book that editors carefully arranged in order to make it most useful for worship in the temple.  (Other groupings like this include Psalms 113–118, 120–134, and 146–150.)  In some ways, the whole of Psalm 100 has already appeared in the psalms that precede it: make a joyful noise (Psalm 98:4); be glad in the Lord (96:11-12); the invitation to come into God’s presence (95:6, 96:8); we are God’s sheep and are pastured [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 4 by Martin Shannon

January 4, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 87 Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. (v. 3) Every year, when we celebrate the feast of the dedication of our monastery church, the Church of the Transfiguration, we read these words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “So when you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,” (2:19-20).  The imagery of a physical building as the house of God is part of what has made this passage fitting for the dedication of a church for almost two millennia.  But if we limit ourselves to envisioning only the beauty of stone walls [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 3 by Martin Shannon

January 3, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 91 My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust. (v. 2) Drawing upon an already familiar pattern in the sixth century, Saint Benedict directed in his rule for monastery life that Psalm 91 be sung at the hoursof Compline, the night service of prayer that closed every day of the week. Here, most certainly, is a prayer that “puts the church to bed,” with confident assurance in the all-encompassing protection of God. It is, above all, a song of trust. If there is a New Testament counterpart to its succinct message, it would be found in Paul’s rhetorical questions to the Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:31, 35). The self-evident [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 2 by Martin Shannon

January 2, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 46 Be still, and know that I am God. (v. 10) Sometime around 1529 the church reformer and former Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, paraphrased Psalm 46 into one of the most beloved hymns of Protestantism: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.  Later translated into English, the opening words are: A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper he, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing. Psalm 46 is one of liturgical psalms in praise of Mount Zion, God’s “dwelling place,” (see also Psalms 48, 76, 84, 87, and 122).  The common theme running through these psalms is the incomparable beauty and unshakable security of the City of God.  The place where God makes his abode is the most glorious and [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 1 by Martin Shannon

January 1, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 147 It is good to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. (v. 1) When the people of Israel drew near to the end of their journey in the wilderness, Moses prepared them for what lay ahead by reminding them of what had brought them to this point.  After generations of slavery in Egypt, they were not a free people, great in number and filled with promise.  They carried with them the wealth of their oppressors and stood on the verge of possessing the land promised to their fathers.  Lest they succumb to thinking that their own hand had accomplished their deliverance, Moses reminded them of the true reason for their good fortune: “It was not because you were more in number than [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: December 31 by Martin Shannon

December 31, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 90 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (v. 12) There are five “books” in the collection that is the Psalter, and Psalm 90 is the first psalm of Book IV.  Both Jewish and Christian scholarship notes that the emphasis of the final two books (sixty-one psalms in all) is on God’s sovereignty and glory.  Three begin with the words, The Lord reigns (vv. 93, 97, 99), and the only ten psalms beginning with, Praise the Lord, are in these closing volumes.  Psalm 90 was chosen as a fitting introduction to these songs of praise, and its title tells us why: “God’s Eternity and Human Frailty.” For creatures of dust we are remarkably blind to matters of our own mortality.  We spend a [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: December 30 by Martin Shannon

December 30, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 113 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap. (v. 7) Psalm 113 presents us with the juxtaposition of two seemingly contrasting wonders about the nature of God – his incomparable majesty and his tender mercy.  To describe them, the psalmist draws upon a very familiar social concept: status.  The Lord rules in glory from on high, yet lives among the poorest of the poor. The psalm opens with a call to praise the Lord, perhaps directed by one of the temple priests to the choir of cantors, (v. 1).  Their response builds rapidly into a crescendo of sound, glorifying God for his rule over all time and space, (vv. 2-4).  Their repeated use of “the name of the Lord” shows the [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: December 29 by Martin Shannon

December 29, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 19 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. (v. 14) How are you to know and bring your life into harmony with the ways of God?  In some of the most poetically descriptive language of the psalmody, Psalm 19 unfolds a three-part answer to this question.  The varying structures and vocabularies of the psalm reveal distinct styles that have been merged to create a single voice of prayer, an eloquent triptych that moves the reader from a general acknowledgment of God’s ways to a personal commitment to live by them. In part one, verses 1–6, the psalmist describes the splendor of the heavens as a vehicle for displaying the glory of God.  Interestingly, in these verses, [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of The Holy Innocents by Martin Shannon

December 28, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (v. 1) There is probably no other psalm that has been copied, recited in worship, prayed in private, and set to music more than Psalm 23.  The tones of rest and trust that permeate its six short verses strike a resonant chord in every human heart, for they describe that world of contentment and serenity for which we all long.  It is not a world that exists out there somewhere, however.  It is a world that exists because of someone.  It is the world created for his sheep by the Good Shepherd.  The Lord is the maker of this world, and only because of his guiding hand and provision – his loving-kindness and mercy – do the sheep dwell within its blessed gates. The [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of Saint John by Martin Shannon

December 27, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 86 In the day of my trouble I call on thee, for thou dost answer me. (v. 7) At the start of Psalm 86, we are inclined to think we are reading an ordinary cry of lament.  The psalmist is in some kind of trouble and turns to the Lord for assistance.  But as we read further, we encounter a mixture of petition and praise that goes on through the entire psalm.  The psalmist’s situation may be dire, but good things have happened as well.  I am poor and needy; thou art good and forgiving, (vv. 1, 5).  I call on thee; thou dost answer me, (v. 7).  Teach me thy way; thou, Lord, hast helped and comforted me, (vv. 11, 17).  The psalm goes back and forth between calling out to God in need, and thanking God for needs [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of Saint Stephen by Martin Shannon

December 26, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 31 Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. (v. 5) “Into thy hands I commit my spirit” is the most well-known verse of this psalm.  His own hands helplessly nailed to a cross, Jesus quoted it – with the all-important addition, “Father” – as he “breathed his last” upon the cross, (Luke 23:46).  Stephen prayed much the same as he was being stoned to death, the first martyr of the fledgling church: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Acts 7:59).  With these words of trusting relinquishment at its center, and read in the light of Jesus’s passion and death – really, the consummation of his incarnation – the whole of Psalm 31 takes on a depth of meaning [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: The Nativity Of The Lord by Martin Shannon

December 25, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 150 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (v. 6) The Psalter is actually a collection of five books of psalms, each of which ends with a brief doxology, (see Psalms 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48).  Considering all that has been said about the Lord God in the previous 149 psalms, what else can be said?  Here, at the conclusion of the entire Psalter, what can possibly bear the weight of being the last word?  Psalm 150 – it is as if all of the previous doxologies have multiplied and expanded into one final and glorious eruption of jubilant praise. The genius of this psalm is how much it says with so very few words.  First, it answers all the basic questions about praising God: where [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Fourth Sunday Of Advent by Martin Shannon

December 24, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 89 I will sing of thy steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations. (v. 1) Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo – the opening words of Psalm 89, as they are sung in Latin (I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever) – appear on a banner issuing from the mouth of Teresa of Ávila in a famous portrait done of the saint in 1576, while she was still living.  The painting portrays the elderly Teresa being visited by the Holy Spirit who descends in the form of a dove, a vision she had on the eve of Pentecost.  With these words taken from the psalm, the artist expresses the theme of Saint Teresa’s life: her continued response of praise to God [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Saturday Of Advent III by Martin Shannon

December 23, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 42 & 43 Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. (v. 5) In several Hebrew manuscripts, these two psalms are joined together, which indicates that at one time they probably were a single psalm.  The fact that they share a common refrain – “Why are you cast down, O my soul,” (see Psalms 42:6, 11, and 43:5) – is strong support for this view.  The song is the prayer of someone who is experiencing an excruciating sense of separation from God.  The psalmist uses poignant imagery: Just as a thirsty deer pants after the life-giving drink that comes from your presence, O Lord, (v. 42:1).  While the Hebrew word nephesh is translated here and elsewhere in the psalms as soul, meaning a [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Friday Of Advent III by Martin Shannon

December 22, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 32 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (v. 1) There are two basic messages to Psalm 32: when we depart from the ways of God, confession of sin is the pathway to pardon; and, God will surely lead us in those ways if we will follow.  The first message has to do with the joy of forgiveness, in this case, of being forgiven.  The second message has to do with God’s willingness, even God’s desire, to forgive our wandering ways and to then keep his eye upon us.  Living in the light of these unalterable truths makes the psalmist truly blessed. The most famous description of the requirements for a blessed life is the Sermon on the Mount.  There Jesus lists nine conditions for true, [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Thursday Of Advent III by Martin Shannon

December 21, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 8 When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers… what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou doest care for him? (vv. 3-4) Who has stood in silence under the luminous canopy of a midnight sky and not wondered at the mysteries contained in this vast universe?  No sooner is the question formed in our minds – “How far can my gaze reach into this never-ending vastness?” – than the boundless measure of the answer provokes in us an overwhelming sense of our own tininess.  The psalmist (unlike us, the inhabitants of the electric light bulb age) probably looked upon the nighttime sky every evening.  On one occasion, the questions evoked by the starry vision took shape in a [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Wednesday Of Advent III by Martin Shannon

December 20, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 103 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. (v. 2) Psalm 103 begins and ends with the exact same phrase: “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”  The repeated phrase is like two bookends that sum up all that is contained in a long shelf of texts and manuscripts that stand between them.  This is a call to worship rooted in specific events and experiences of God’s blessings. Counting one’s blessings: Psalm 103 conveys the depth of meaning contained in this very ordinary and often overlooked spiritual exercise.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once reminded his readers that, in times of difficulty, when we were tempted to give in to our worst inclinations, the enemy of our souls has only one goal in mind: [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Tuesday Of Advent III by Martin Shannon

December 19, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 25 Make me to know thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me. (vv. 4-5) Some psalms make use of a poetic device known as an acrostic.  Psalm 25 is one of these.  Each of its twenty-two verses begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  (Others are Psalms 9, 10, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145.)  Psalm 25 takes this one step further.  The opening letters of the beginning verse, the middle verse, and the last verse spell out the Hebrew root for teach or learn (aleph), which in fact summarizes the content of the psalm.  “Show me thy ways, O Lord, and teach me thy paths,” (v. 3).  This psalmist, who is apparently experienced in the ways of God’s mercy [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Monday Of Advent III by Martin Shannon

December 18, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 6 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me. (v. 2) For someone who lives with God, what is the appropriate response to trouble?  Whether from inward distress of soul, or from outward distress by adversity?  The psalms teach us that the proper response is always prayer.  Through prayers, the psalmists bring forward every manner of suffering.  There is not affliction that is not suitable gist for the mill of conversation with God. In the case of Psalm 6, affliction has taken hold in both the body and the soul of the psalmist.  “My bones are in agony,” says one translation, and, “My soul is in deep anguish,” in another, (vv. 2-3).  In both cases, the Hebrew word may be translated [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Third Sunday Of Advent by Martin Shannon

December 17, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 84 My soul longs, yea faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (v. 2) “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts,” (v. 1).  The Hebrew term, yedidot (from the verb dwd, which also forms the name David) carries a stronger meaning than pleasing.  Elsewhere in the Bible, the word always refers to those “beloved” by someone, particularly by God.  So, the psalmist is saying he is in love with God’s house.  Why this deep affection and desire?  Nowhere does the poet speak of how the temple looks, or of the manifold liturgical activities that take place there.  His longing for “the courts of the Lord” is inspired not by the beauty of objects and [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Saturday Of Advent II by Martin Shannon

December 16, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 61 Lead thou me to the rock that is higher than I. (v. 2) The psalmist is distraught, and it appears that what weighs upon his heart is the overwhelming sense of distance he feels between himself and God.  “From the ends of the Earth will I call upon thee,” he cries, (v. 2).  His sense of dejection is not unfamiliar.  “Where is God?” we ask miserably, when God’s ways are dark and our days seem devoid of his presence.  At the end of our tether we are quick to feel that God has removed himself from us, that he stands at a distance, that perhaps he has even forgotten us.  Psalm 61 is a prayer for just such an occasion. If this is in fact a prayer of David the king (see verse 6), there must have been [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Friday Of Advent II by Martin Shannon

December 15, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 56 Nevertheless, though, I am sometime afraid, yet put I my trust in thee. (v. 3) The ancient editors of the psalms assigned Psalm 56 to David.  Its superscription, “A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath,” refers again to those events recorded in 1 Samuel 21 and 22, when, fleeing before Saul, David pretended to be crazy and took refuge among his mortal enemies, the Philistines.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire, you might say about David’s predicament.  The psalmist puts it more directly: “My enemies trample upon me all day long, for many fight against me proudly,” (v. 2). The prayer is essentially divided into two parts – verses 1–3 and verses 5–9 – with a similar [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Thursday Of Advent II by Martin Shannon

December 14, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 40 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation. (v. 9) “I waited, and I waited, and I waited,” might be the opening words of this prayer – or, rather, this testimony.  It is as if the psalmist is standing up before an assembly of fellow worshipers and telling them the story of his deliverance which, he admits quite frankly, did not come as quickly as he first wanted.  As someone has said, God is never late, which means that waiting is bringing us into line with his divine timetable. At the right time, God did answer the psalmist’s cry for help.  He reached down from Heaven and, with arms strong enough to carry the freight of the whole universe, snatched his servant’s soul out of [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Wednesday Of Advent II by Martin Shannon

December 13, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 57 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let they glory be over all the Earth! (vv. 5, 11) Is Psalm 57 a prayer of lament or a song of praise?  It is both, really, but praise is given the last word. The psalmist uses vivid imagery to describe his predicament as well as the power of God to save him.  For example, his cry for mercy and help is made as he hides himself “in the shadow of God’s wings,” (v. 1).  This is an almost technical reference to the golden wings of the cherubim that hover over the ark of the covenant in the temple, (Exodus 25:18-20; 1 Kings 6:27-28), but the Hebrew could also refer to the shadow of “your Shekinah,” meaning the glory of God’s presence.  Shekinah is sometimes used [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Tuesday Of Advent II by Martin Shannon

December 12, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 149 Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King. (v. 2) Especially in our time, Psalm 149’s militant tone when calling for all the faithful to praise God should not be mistaken for a call to war.  On the spiritual battlefield, however, praise of God is among the most effective weapons – it actually bears the power of God.  The book of Nehemiah describes a scene in the rebuilding of the temple after the exile: “Those who carried burdens were laden in such a way that each with one hand labored on the work and with the other held his weapon,” (4:17).  The work of building a house of prayer went hand-in-hand with the work of defending it.  Sword and shovel each had its [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Monday Of Advent II by Martin Shannon

December 11, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 34 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. (v. 1) The psalmist’s joy is so full that he is determined to do two things: praise God at all times, and get as many others as possible to join in.  Then, once he has the attention of his listeners, he invites them to live their entire lives to the glory of God. The poet begins: “I will bless the Lord at all times,” the Lord’s “praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  The praise of God should never cease, because the love of God never ceases.  Nothing weakens in God’s commitment to bless his people; should anything weaken in their whole-hearted gratitude for his kindness? The superscription of the psalm (“A [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Second Sunday Of Advent by Martin Shannon

December 10, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 66 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me. (v. 16) The Hebrew inscription of this psalm reads: “To the choirmaster – a song – a psalm.”  Most of the early Greek manuscripts (known as the Septuagint) add another word: anastaseos, meaning, “of the resurrection.”  This tells us that, by the second, or even late in the first century, Psalm 66 was probably sung by Christians at Easter, the feast of the Lord’s resurrection. Before Christians adopted Psalm 66 as a song in celebration of the resurrection, it was a song in celebration of God’s deliverance of Israel.  You hear in these words the prayer of a faithful Jew, coming to make his sacrifice in the temple, in [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Saturday Of Advent I by Martin Shannon

December 9, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 51 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (v. 1) The context of Psalm 51 is given in its superscription: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”  The conversation between Nathan and David is recorded in 2 Samuel 12:1-13, and the story that led to the exchange is a familiar one, (2 Samuel 11).  Late one spring afternoon, the eyes – and then the hand – of King David falls lustfully upon Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who was one of the kingdom’s faithful soldiers.  Bathsheba becomes pregnant with David’s child and, in a desperate attempt to cover his own unfaithfulness, [...]

ADVENT PRAYER: Friday Of Advent 1 by Martin Shannon

December 8, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 122 Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! (v. 2) “And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God,” wrote John the seer (Revelation 21:2).  The completion of all human history and the fulfillment of all Heaven’s promises are contained within this radiant vision of the glorified Jerusalem.  It is a far cry from the broken and conflicted city we see today.  Perhaps Psalm 122 can remind us that, even as we pray for peace in the Earthly city, we also join with Abraham, the father of faith, in looking “forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” (Hebrews 11:10). Of all the psalms called “Songs of Ascent” – the [...]