Sunday July 10, 2022
Praying the Psalms -Prayers of Longing
Life and Work of our Church
We are one as we come, as we come, joyful to be here,
In the praise on our lips there’s a sense that God is near.
We are one as we sing, as we seek we are found;
And we come needful of God’s grace as we meet together in this place.
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and or those who have cared for it long before our ancestors arrived. We commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
We light this candle as a sign of God’s Light and God’s Spirit at work in the world. May its light brighten our spirits, ignite our passions and shine within and through each one of us to offer light and love to others.
Call to Worship
Longing for connection.
Longing to not feel alone.
Longing for what makes life whole.
Longing for love.
Longing to know that we matter
Longing for God.
We gather in worship, longing to connect with the Divine
And in worship God longs to reach out to us in response.
My soul thirsts for you O God. My whole being yearns for your presence. I cling to you trusting that you will hold me together. My inner depths search for you, longing for your smile. My soul cries out to you, longing to rest in you now and forever. Your love is better than life! – better than anything. Your presence with me is the only thing that satisfies me. Your life in me and through me is my greatest joy. As I reach out for you, O God, answer my prayer and satisfy my longing. Amen.
Gift of Music Come Down, O Love Divine #367
Throughout the Summer this year, we are going to be looking at the book of Psalms and in particular the Psalms that express our prayers. Last week we looked at the Psalms that express Prayers of Adoration. Today we look at those Psalms that express our Prayers of Longing, specifically our Longing for God.
Psalm 63:1-5 Good News Translation
O God, you are my God, and I long for you. My whole being desires you; like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land, my soul is thirsty for you. Let me see you in the sanctuary; let me see how mighty and glorious you are. Your constant love is better than life itself, and so I will praise you. I will give you thanks as long as I live; I will raise my hands to you in prayer. My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to you.
Psalm 42 Good News Translation
As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for you, the living God. When can I go and worship in your presence? Day and night I cry, and tears are my only food; all the time my enemies ask me, “Where is your God?” My heart breaks when I remember the past, when I went with the crowds to the house of God and led them as they walked along, a happy crowd, singing and shouting praise to God. Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God. Here in exile my heart is breaking, and so I turn my thoughts to him. He has sent waves of sorrow over my soul; chaos roars at me like a flood, like waterfalls thundering down to the Jordan from Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar. May the Lord show his constant love during the day, so that I may have a song at night, a prayer to the God of my life. To God, my defender, I say, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go on suffering from the cruelty of my enemies?” I am crushed by their insults, as they keep on asking me, “Where is your God?” Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.
Psalm 84 Good News Translation
How I love your Temple, Lord Almighty! How I want to be there! I long to be in the Lord’s Temple. With my whole being I sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrows have built a nest, and the swallows have their own home; they keep their young near your altars, Lord Almighty, my king and my God. How happy are those who live in your Temple, always singing praise to you. How happy are those whose strength comes from you, who are eager to make the pilgrimage to Mount Zion. As they pass through the dry valley of Baca, it becomes a place of springs; the autumn rain fills it with pools. They grow stronger as they go; they will see the God of gods on Zion. Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty. Listen, O God of Jacob! Bless our king, O God, the king you have chosen. One day spent in your Temple is better than a thousand anywhere else; I would rather stand at the gate of the house of my God than live in the homes of the wicked. The Lord is our protector and glorious king, blessing us with kindness and honor. He does not refuse any good thing to those who do what is right. Lord Almighty, how happy are those who trust in you!
Psalm 119:169-176 Good News Translation
Let my cry for help reach you, Lord! Give me understanding, as you have promised. Listen to my prayer, and save me according to your promise! I will always praise you, because you teach me your laws. I will sing about your law, because your commands are just. Always be ready to help me, because I follow your commands. How I long for your saving help, O Lord! I find happiness in your law. Give me life, so that I may praise you; may your instructions help me. I wander about like a lost sheep; so come and look for me, your servant, because I have not neglected your laws.
Praying the Psalms – Prayers of Longing
In her 1911 book titled Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, famed poet, novelist, teacher and Christian philosopher wrote these words. There are “Three deep cravings of the self, three great expressions of [human] restlessness, which only mystic truth can fully satisfy. The first is the craving which makes him a pilgrim and a wanderer. It is the longing to go out from [the] normal world in search of a lost home, a ‘better country’; an Eldorado … a Heavenly Syon (Zion). The next is the craving of heart for heart, of the Soul for its perfect mate, which makes him a lover. The third is the craving for inward purity and perfection, which makes him an ascetic, and in the last resort a saint.”
When Underhill is talking about these “deep cravings” she is talking about the same thing that the Psalmist talks about when he says “O God … I long for you” or “ I thirst for you”. It is a longing or a craving that cannot be satisfied by the pleasures or obsessions of this world. It is something that, in the words of Underhill, “only mystic truth can fully satisfy.”
The longing for a “lost home” is not the longing for a physical place on this earth. It is the longing for a place of true belonging, a place where not only the body, but the soul can truly find perfect peace and rest. The longing of “the Soul for its perfect mate” is not the sexual or emotional desire for an earthly companion, but the desire for a deep connection with the very center of our being, a connection with that mysterious element of our being that is the Soul. It is the desire for that spark of the Divine within us to connect with the greater mystery of the Divine.
And the desire to achieve “inward purity and perfection” is one we all know we can never truly achieve. Yet that desire for perfection, which reveals itself in us as perfectionism, is one that many of us struggle against. It appears in all of us in varying degrees, even though we know that we can never really be perfect no matter how hard we try.
Unfortunately, all too many people try to satisfy these deep inward cravings with physical or material comforts. The hunger to acquire more and more money, more and more possessions, more respect, more status, more power, or more physical and sexual pleasure are all efforts to satisfy what Underhill refers to as the deep cravings of the self. But according to Underhill, according to the Psalmist and according to our Christian tradition, these things can never be filled by human effort no matter what we do.
And the circumstances in which we find ourselves have little to do with these deeper cravings. A person can have everything they could possibly desire in this world and still feel empty and unfulfilled while another person, who on the surface seems to have very little to be thankful for, may have a deeper peace and contentment than anyone would think possible. But we often think of these times of deep longing as being strongest when we are struggling or in pain.
It is generally believed that Psalm 63, which we began with this morning, was written by David while he was in hiding in a Judean wilderness, fleeing from King Saul. At the time, Saul was trying to kill David because he believed that David was a threat to his kingdom. David was tired, frustrated, hurt by Saul’s betrayal and no doubt wondering if he would ever find peace again.
Yet in this Psalm, David does not pray for any of the physical comforts that he must have missed so much as he hid out in caves, always on the run from Saul’s soldiers. He doesn’t pray for a comfortable bed or a table filled with all his favorite foods. He doesn’t pray that the respect and trust that Saul had once given him would return. Instead, he cries out to God that his soul is as thirsty for the Divine as a dry and barren land, thirsting for water where there is none.
O God, you are my God, and I long for you. My whole being desires you; like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land, my soul is thirsty for you. In perhaps the most difficult time of his life, David’s deepest desire, his greatest longing was not for release from his suffering, for peace and security, or for physical comforts. It was that his soul could feel connected with his God.
The same is true of Psalm 42. This Psalm was almost certainly written during a time of exile, but the Psalmist does not pray for a return to his homeland. Instead, his deepest longing is to feel God’s presence with him even when he is far from the temple that was always associated with God’s presence.
Because worship at the time was always centered in the temple in Jerusalem, when his enemies ask the psalmist, “Where is your God?” the traditional answer would have been “in the temple”. But the Psalmist does not say that he longs for the temple. Instead, he longs for God and holds tightly to the idea that God can still be found even in a strange land far from Jerusalem. I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.
What the Psalmist is expressing longing for in this psalm is not for the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but the “lost home” or “Heavenly Syon” that Underhill talks about. It has nothing to do with the physical structure or trappings of the temple. It is a deep hunger and longer to be in the vey presence of the Divine. The psalmist longs to feel that close and intimate relationship with the Divine, that longing “of the Soul for its perfect mate”. And the Psalmist expresses not only his hope but his confidence that God will answer this longing.
I think there are times we all feel that hollow longing for something more. We may not even be able to express what that longing is, but it is deep, it is powerful and it is undeniable. So, when we feel that longing, what do we do? How do we respond when we feel that deep craving for something more?
Well, I think the first step is recognizing, like the Psalmist does, that what we are longing for has nothing to do with what is happening around us. In times of pain, challenge, fear or isolation we may be more intensely aware of the deep longing we are feeling, but that does not mean it is only during these times that we feel unfulfilled. It may be that everything in our lives is going pretty well at the moment, but we can still experience that deep longing and feeling of emptiness that touches us at the very depth of our being.
It is only when we can set aside what is happening around us and focus on what Underhill calls those “universal expression of human restlessness” that we can begin to recognize what it is that we truly long for, a deeper and more intimate relationship with the Divine.
It can be very tempting to try to fill the void with other things, with the pursuit of wealth, with the latest technology, with physical pleasures, with the busyness that packs our lives so full that we don’t have time to think about our inward life and our deepest longings. These things may seem to quiet that longing, at least temporarily, but they cannot truly satisfy it.
According to Underhill “only mystic truth can fully satisfy” and that mystic truth is found in our relationship with the Divine. But seeking that relationship is not always easy or straight forward. It does not simply happen, and it does not depend on us doing all the right things or checking off the right achievements on a to-do list.
Our relationship with the Divine is something so deep, so intimate and so personal that exactly what it means may be slightly different for each person. But according to Underhill and according to the Psalmist, it is something that we must truly and deeply long for. We must seek after it and work towards it. But to admit to such a deep longing makes us vulnerable. It exposes the very depth of who we are and for many people that can be very hard to do.
The good news is that there are things we can do to help build our relationship with the Divine. We can begin by opening ourselves up to listen. We can listen for the Divine in the voice of the wind, in the rustle of the trees, in the call of the birds, in voice of a friend or loved one, in the voice of someone calling out for help, in a poem, s story, a song, a prayer, a scripture such as the psalms or in any type of writing that moves us and touches is in the very depth of our being.
We can look for God in the beauty of a sunset, of a sandy beach, of a deep forest, a tall mountain or in the wonderous diversity of creation that is all around us. But if we look, we might just discover that God can also be seen in a dear friend, in a newborn baby, in a laughing child, or even in the eyes of someone on the street begging for our help. And we can build on our relationship with the Divine through prayer, meditation, study and reading, and through worship, both personal and collective.
But it all begins with recognizing our deep longing and deep need for that relationship. When we can truly say along with the Psalmist, My whole being desires you; like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land, my soul is thirsty for you … As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God.
And when we can say these words not just with our lips but at the very depths of our soul, then like the Psalmist we can also say, I will put my hope in God … My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to [my God, now and forever]. Amen.
Gift of Music As a Deer Pants for the Water #766
We Offer Our Gifts
One of the ways in which we express our love for God is in the gifts we offer. In this church we do not pass the offering plates but ask you, if you chose to support the work of this church to place your offering in the offering plates at the back of the church or to make arrangement to give through PAR or through online donations. But these are only one of the gifts we offer. We also offer our time, our abilities and our love and commitment to help others. And so as we sing our offertory response, let us offer our gifts to God.
Offertory Response #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love and the gift of the Spirit
by which we live, we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
As you have blessed us in all that you have given us, we ask that you will bless the gifts that we bring that they too may become a blessing. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
God is always as near as our next breath. God always listen when we pray, whether those prayers are written down and placed in our prayer jar or whether they as said in the silence of our hearts. So let us bring our silent, personal prayers to God with confidence, knowing that they are always heard … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine One, we long for your presence. We long to feel you in our world and in our lives. And so, a we come before you in prayer we express the longings we feel, not only for ourselves but for those around us.
We long for an end to hatred, war and violence. We think of those caught in the ongoing war in Ukraine … we think of those dealing with political violence, oppression and terrorism around the world … we think of those facing conflict and violence in their own home, in their own neighborhoods, in their own families …
We long for an end to pain and suffering. We pray for those dealing with illness and disease … we pray for the doctors, nurses and other health care workers who work tirelessly to alleviate pain and restore health … we pray for those suffering from emotional or mental pain and we pray for their health and restoration … we pray for the pain and suffering that goes undiagnosed forcing people to deal with it alone …
We long for an end to injustice and inequality. We think of those starving to death in a world of plenty, a world where so much of the wealth and resources are controlled by so few … we think of those who are discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, their sexual identity, their differing abilities, their age, their income or any of the many other categories we us to define and separate people …
We long for a world where all of creation is respected and cherished. We pray for those who speak out on behalf of creation despite threats and opposition … we pray for those who struggle to find new and better ways of meeting the requirements of our modern world without damaging creation … we pray for those who commit their lives to caring for and protecting the great diversity of plants, animals and insects that are so essential to your creation …
Lastly, Divine One, we pray for ourselves. Grant us the courage and perseverance to continually seek to strengthen and deepen our connection with you. Help us to recognize and embrace our longing for you and to trust that you will fulfill that longing when we reach out to you. Amen.
Gift of Music Seek Ye First #356
And now, as you go out from here, go knowing that the longing you feel for that Divine Mystery is not in vain. Just as you long for a closer relationship with the Divine, so that Divine Mystery longs for a closer relationship with you. So go out from here knowing that you are not alone. God is with you. Christ’s example leads you and the Spirt guides and accompanies you every step of the way. Go with God.
Go now in peace, never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true.
Know God will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love, and show you believe.
Go now in peace, in faith and in love.
Amen, amen, amen.