Not long after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s death in 1882, biographer Eric S. Robertson noted, “The ‘Psalm of Life,’ great poem or not, went straight to the hearts of the people, and found an echoing shout in their midst. From the American pulpits, right and left, preachers talked to the people about it, and it came to be sung as a hymn in churches.”
In 1850, Longfellow reportedly wrote in his journal how happy he was to hear that a minister had quoted his poem in a sermon, although he was disappointed that none of the congregants could identify the author!
Let’s read again (or maybe for the first time) this classic Victorian poem. You may even recognize a few of the more famous lines that have been lifted and used elsewhere over the years.
A psalm of gratitude and praise.
I love the Lord,￼ for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry￼ for mercy.￼
￼Because he turned his ear￼ to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”
What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord—
in your midst, Jerusalem.
Dear Lord and Father of humankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.
– John Greenleaf Whittier
You may be wondering why such difficulty has come into your life. However, the greater question is, “Lord, how do You plan to use this difficulty so I may serve You better?” — Charles Stanley
Today’s read is When Poets Pray by Marilyn McEntyre.
From Amazon: Poetry and prayer are closely related. We often look to poets to give language to our deepest hopes, fears, losses—and prayers. Poets slow us down. They teach us to stop and go in before we go on. They play at the edges of mystery, holding a tension between line and sentence, between sense and reason, between the transcendent and the deeply, comfortingly familiar. When Poets Pray contains thoughtful meditations by Marilyn McEntyre on choice poems/prayers and poems about prayer. Her beautifully written reflections are contemplative exercises, not scholarly analyses, meant more as invitation than instruction. Here McEntyre shares gifts that she herself has received from poets who pray, or who reflect on prayer, believing that they have other gifts to offer readers seeking spiritual companionship along our pilgrim way. Poets include: Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Mary Oliver, and the psalmists.
From the book…
“A Prayer in Spring” by Robert Frost
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends he will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)
A poem by Walter Brueggemann on reading Psalms, from Prayers for a Privileged People:
It may seem odd to talk of beauty in the anxious times we’re currently living in. But maybe we need the reminder all the more that there is beauty in God’s love — a love always present no matter the world’s circumstances. Today, Let’s take a look at those reminders in Psalm 119.
Psalm 119 is:
- The longest psalm at 176 verses, 22 stanzas of 8 verses each
- The longest chapter in the Bible
- Filled with words describing God’s “law” in all but four verses
- An alphabetic acrostic – Within each of the 22 stanzas, each verse begins with the given letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Gimel…)
Psalm 119 is a labor of love, there’s no doubt about that. It is a gift for the Lord from the psalmist. He or she wanted it to be something beautiful for God…. (p 36)
As you read through Psalm 119 this week, look for words and phrases of beauty. Let’s think, too, about our own prayers. Have we said the same words so many times that they’ve become empty? How might we add beauty to our prayers? How might we bless our friendship with God by our words? The following is one of my favorites:
“Veni Creator Spiritus” (A prayer to the Holy Spirit, sometimes sung as a hymn.)
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.