The Book of Psalms is a book of poetry, which was used as the “prayer” of “service” book in the ancient Israelite Temple. Composed of 150 poems, Rev. Eugene Peterson writes that, they form are a “prayer book that gives us a language adequate for responding to the God who speaks to us.” They can teach us how to pray. Psalm 27 seems to be both a prayer of orientation, singing of trust and confidence in Yahweh in verses 1 to 6, and one of disorientation, in which there is a complaint a prayer for God to be faithful in versus 7 to 12. The poetic prayer seems to model the reality that trust and need come side by side in life. Even if we have confidence and trust in God to provide, we often find ourselves in wrestling matches with fear. And God’s promises of light and salvation are not just for a far off distant, other-worldly, future; but for us here, now, in the land of the living.
Throughout the psalm there is a repetition of certain words and metaphors, which are often reversed or expanded upon in each use. They put flesh upon a celebration of trust in God and a request for God to continue to be faithful in the face of fear, uncertainty and adversarial relationships. God is presented as an active light and salvation which illuminate the world, chase off the shadows and darkness and light the way forward. Repeatedly God is lifted up as a sure rock, a stronghold to trust and seek out. It’s a reminder and a prayer of self-reassurance.
We all have fears. When we’re little we turn on the bedroom light to chase them off, but as we age our fears are not so easily scared away, or overcome. Our fears can give us strength, opening our own mind to our own strength, the faithfulness of Gods, the gracious relationships that we have with family, friends and neighbors. At times our failures, fears and hard times can turn out to be transformative and enriching. Often when we don’t get the happy ending we expect, we receive something from the journey that we would never have imagined or asked for. This psalm might be a poem about an experience that you haven’t had, yet the metaphors, feeling and language are those of multiple experiences of fear, failure and flailing in life to which we can all relate.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What shimmers for you in this passage?
- Read it again. What image most speaks to you today?
- When have you heard this psalm before? Where? How?
- How does it utter a good news word to you in regards to whatever you’re living today as you may struggle to put your trust in God as a shepherd guide or as one who invites you to his table?
- How does this psalm feed your soul?
- What do you fear these days?
- What makes you drop your heard, and look at your feet, rather than looking ahead with confidence?
- How have you seen the goodness of the Lord here and now?
- How has the beauty of God’s goodness changed the light in which you see God, the world, others, yourself?
Download a PDF textual study guide HERE.