Last week we began a look at Psalm 102 by noting its uniqueness in that it is addressed, not to God, but to the psalmist’s soul. The command to “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” is, thus, a call to prayer, to a gathering up of our scattered mind and thoughts to turn inward, to descend into the heart, where we must stand before God.
Moving on from the opening imperative of the psalm and its initial call to prayer we quickly meet another imperative, a second command: “do not forget all His benefits!”
We mentioned last week that the remembrance of the Lord is crucial in prayer. For example, it was when the Prodigal remembered his Father’s house that he “came to himself” and was able to begin his journey home through repentance. But remembering God is more than a simple mental nod in the direction if the Supreme Being, the way someone might mention in passing “the man upstairs.” True remembrance of the Lord is a recounting, a recollection of who God is. It is a rehearsal - a going over again and again - of how God is.
All of these words - recounting, recollection, rehearsal - are apt for this spiritual work. Think, for example, of a botanist in the woods, carefully collecting and cataloging the diverse flowers and plants of the forest. Or the musician rehearsing a piece of music until it becomes a part of her, woven into her very muscle memory. Or, best of all, the lover - for example, in the Songs of Songs - tenderly recalling over and over again to his mind his beloved’s features and form. All of these illustrate a type of remembering that gets close to what the psalmist is doing in Psalm 102.
The psalmist here recounts the “benefits” of God. It is essential for us to note here that these benefits are not abstract ideas about God nor are they some sort of projection onto God of values that the psalmist thinks important. Neither are they general notions about the deity that any old pagan might come up with based on myths and legends. Rather, they are based on who God has revealed Himself to be in saving Israel through the Pascha/Passover/Exodus. Thus verse 7: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” God’s deliverance of Israel - His salvation - reveals who God is and how God is: He is the One who forgives all thine iniquities, heals all thy diseases, redeems thy life from the pit, etc.
If, as we said last week, the first movement of prayer is the gathering up of the mind before the Lord, then the second is recollection, remembering who and how the living and true God is. Prayer, in this movement, is a sort of loving and attentive rehearsal of all that God has done in creating and saving us. It is not a projecting onto God of a mask of our own devising, based on our own passions and fears. In fact, the rehearsing of God’s benefits serves to liberate us from any idol that we would set up in our mind in the place of God by returning us again and again to the God known in Christ.
The example par excellence of prayer as rehearsal and recollection is, of course, the Divine Liturgy, of which Psalm 102 is the first antiphon. When we stand before the Lord in Liturgy we recall who God is based on what God has done in creating and saving us. This recollection is not a tired repetition of antiquated religious jargon, repeated again and again, week after week, because it is “tradition” or because “this is the way we have always done it.” Rather, like the musician rehearsing the minuet or the lover remembering his beloved’s eyes, our recollection of God in the Liturgy is mindful and attentive, suffused with awe and wonder.
Above all else, Psalm 102 rehearses the mercy of God. Though man be weak and his life fleeting, God’s mercy is strong and sure and never-ending.
With love in Christ, Fr John
“Give me a word!”
A disciple should always carry the memory of God within. For it is written: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. (Dt.6.5). You should love the Lord, not only when entering into the place of prayer, but should also remember him with deep desire when you walk, or speak to others, or take your meals. For scripture says: Where your heart is, there also is your treasure (Mt. 6.21); and surely, wherever a person’s heart is given, wherever their deepest desire draws them, this is indeed their god. If a disciple’s heart always longs for God, then God will surely be the Lord of the heart.
+St Makarios the Great
It is more important to remember God, than it is to remember to breathe.
+St Gregory the Theologian
There are three things I cannot take in nondogmatic faith non-ecclesiological Christianity and nonascetic Christianity These three the church dogma and asceticism constitute one single life for me.