Here is the entry for Psalm 90 in my new book, Psalm Prayers. It was, of course, written long before our ‘current crisis’.

Psalm 90: A thousand years in thy sight

The reality of time shapes this psalm. First, God’s unbounded time, which stretches back before the dawn of geology, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth’ and in which a thousand years are ‘but as yesterday’. And second, the pulse of limited human time, the ‘threescore years and ten’, or perhaps ‘fourscore’, but ‘so soon passeth it away, and we are gone’. The psalm, which is associated with Moses, also references a third type of time, ‘crisis time’. The moment is difficult and worrying; vulnerability and fragility have become apparent. There is hope that the time of difficulty that the people are now encountering will soon come to an end. And there is prayer that the concern that directs this psalm, that our time is running out, will focus minds and hearts so that the people might address the situation wisely, ‘So teach us to number our days : that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.’

The psalm ends with a plea for collaboration. God’s work is needed and invited but the people are working too. Their hands are busy trying to sort things out, and that effort is offered as the psalm concludes, ‘O prosper thou our handy-work.’

The prayer seeks to give the same perspective to a current crisis.

O God of the endless ages, as we look to you from the midst of our current crisis, we are overwhelmed by our lack of power, our lack of wisdom and our lack of time. Look with pity on our condition, console our hearts, and strengthen our resolve. Bless all who seek your will, and all who are working to further your purposes.

To move in one poem from unimaginable eons of geological time to the desperate crisis of the current moment is to expect a great deal of our imagination. And yet this imaginative dexterity is precisely what we lack when we panic about time.

Psalm Prayers is available direct from the publisher here

Where can we find the words to pray?  Especially when life is difficult or strange – or both?

One idea is to look to words that others have used in prayer in the past.  There is real value in that but sometimes it is all too obvious that the words of ancient prayers come from another era; that they have about them the feel of a time when people thought and spoke differently. There is no value in prayers having an antique feel  – even if they are beautiful. Prayer needs to come from the heart and to be of the moment.  And yet the problem remains – the heart doesn’t always know what it wants to say and the meaning of the moment is often far from clear.

The psalms represent an extensive, direct, honest and diverse range of prayers.  Unlike more recent prayers they are not over-thought or over-polite.  Those who wrote or edited them did not strive to be coherent or logical in the way in which they heaped up petitions, protests or praises.  Rather they projected a poetic rawness into their prayer and put before God not what we think God wants to hear, but what we need to say.

With all this in mind I decided to use the psalms as the inspiration for a set of new prayers.  150 new prayers, in fact, one for each of the psalms.

The result has just been published by Canterbury Press. The little book not only contains the prayers but also an introduction to each psalm and a few words that invite the reader to extend their own refections to the psalm.

In a follow-up blog later today I will post a sample page from the book.  Meanwhile, here is the prayer based on Psalm 60.

Turn our hearts and minds, O God, from their anxious concern about recent troubles to the recollection of the great days in the past when we were confident of your love and protection. Rekindle in us the gifts of faith and hope, that we may overcome our troubles and serve your purposes.

Psalm Prayers is available direct from the publisher here

Etty Hillesum I mean. The young Dutch diarist who died in Auschwitz.

Etty narrated her spiritual journey through pre- and early-war years with such candour and perception that her words touch the souls of any who come across them.

Two years ago I produced a dramatic presentation of Etty’s journey as part of the our Easter at King’s Festival.  This week we have made the recording available online. It is the ‘featured concert’ for 6 April and called  Blazing Harmonies

I hope that you might find an hour to listen, and that she touches your soul in some way.

As we seek to endure the Covid-19 pandemic both as a global and national community and as individuals and families – we are drawing more than ever before on both the resources of the past and the technologies of the present.

Among the many offerings becoming available online we at King’s have the following to contribute:

A full choral service from our archives will be made available at 17:30 UK time every day, and will remain available for seven days.

Twice a week we will post a short new webcast, ‘A Deeper Listen’ which introduces one particular piece of choral music sung by our choir, and responds to it with a prayer.

At a time when it is difficult to know what to say, do or think, I hope that you may from time to time find some solace here

Last December, my mother died.  In January I wrote about the experience of bereavement, but now – it being Mothering Sunday – I want to write about her.

This blog hasn’t before extended to family stories but I think that its reasonable to say of my mother that she often took ‘another angle’ on life.  But more interestingly, perhaps, it occurs to me that reflecting on other people’s lives can offer us another angle on our own reality and experiences, especially when they are difficult.

What follows is adapted from the eulogy I gave for her at her funeral. I intend to offer another post shortly that will tell something of her life-story.

Sad as we are today, it would not be right to forget that the person we remember not only had a solidly loving heart, but also an enduring and endearing sense of humor and fun. Marie didn’t remember or tell jokes, but she had an eye for anything absurd.

One of the qualities that she has passed on to me is the tendency sometimes to find the wrong word; to misspeak. Like the time she went into the local grocer’s shop and in all seriousness asked not for a ‘cucumber’ but a ‘kangaroo’.

She laughed about that at the time and on countless occasions afterwards.  And didn’t she laugh! She had lots of ways of laughing that involved all sorts of sounds and contortions. She loved it and enjoyed it all the more when others also saw the absurdity of the situation and joined in.

She’d often tease people, but never with the intention of hurting someone’s feelings, rather it was done as an expression of affection, or to jolly things along. Sometimes it would be to indirectly ‘call out’ (as we might now say) some minor pretence or pomposity. ‘Come off it’ was a phrase she’d occasionally use; but more often it was her eyes that said it .

Marie lived most of her life in the small town of Crediton in Devon. She used to love the High Street, going shopping as much for the social opportunities it afforded as for anything she really needed. She spent her last months in residential care in Plymouth and would wheel herself into the corridor and hang around the workstation just join in the social life there.  She loved company, and would seek it out in any way she could.

Loneliness was the enemy. She didn’t like it for herself and so tried to protect others from it. My dad’s response to this in retirement was to get a shed, as decades earlier I had retreated to the caravan in the garden to try to get on with my schoolwork.

Marie’s answer to loneliness was ultimately to be found in the word ‘family’, but it applied to everything she engaged with – church included. You see, it wasn’t only company for herself that she wanted. It was inclusion for everyone.  So she always had an eye (and heart) open for the person who might be ignored, excluded or looked-down-on by others.

Marie had no time at all for snobbery or insincerity. She was in the best possible sense a very humble person, and in that regard very well named; there was more than a streak of Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, in her attitude to life. ‘Befriend the humble’ could have been her motto.

A final recollection from my childhood perhaps sums it up.  Of all the young mums in the neighbourhood she was always the one most inclined to treat all the other children as if they were her own; offering a hug or a rebuke as she saw fit.

That may sound rather old-fashioned now, but Marie was boundless in her motherhood.

 

 

 

Check out the Howells webcast on this link to end your day. https://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/choir/listen/webcasts#toc-1

I have just completed work on a book of prayers based on the psalms.  The simply entitled ‘Psalm Prayers’ has 150 prayers, each of which inspired by one of the psalms.

There is also a brief introduction to each psalm and a final thought for further reflection.

As I worked on the proofs these last few days I was surprised (but also not surprised) to find that they connected quite deeply with the entirely unexpected time of threat, fear and uncertainty that we are now experiencing.

This prayer, for help in a time of crisis, is inspired by Psalm 25, which is the main psalm for Morning Prayer tomorrow (Thursday 19th March) in the Common Worship form of Morning Prayer.

Lead us, Lord, from our current crisis to a place of safety, and, as we recall our afflictions and troubles, help us not to forget our personal record of wrong, or fail to recollect the ground of our hope. Keep our eyes fixed on the reliability of your love, that the troubles of our hearts may be eased, for unto you, O Lord, do we lift up our souls.

You can find the daily services of the Church of England on a free App here.