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Prayer for the week

05 April 2013

Ian Robins prays a psalm of earnest seeking, which has become more relevant with age


O God, thou art my God,
    earnestly I seek thee;
my soul thirsts for thee,
   my flesh also longs for thee,
like a dry and parched land
      without water.
So I look for thee in the
     to see thy power and glory.
Because thy kindness is better
     than life itself,
my lips shall praise thee.
So will I bless thee all the days
    of my life;
in thy name will I lift up
    my hands.

Psalm 63.1-4

BACK in the days of my ordination training at King's College, London, I learned the importance of preparation before receiving the sacrament. A version of Psalm 63 became a touchstone in my devotional notebook, as I hovered between agnosticism and faith.

The opening verse spoke to my condition: "earnestly I seek thee." Other translations may offer "eagerly", or "early", but I was never that charismatically eager, and I was certainly not monastically good at early rising.

And so, through some 60 years of ministry, that apophatic doubting and seeking has continued, inspired and threatened by a torrent of scientific information (the vastness of space, or the discovery that there are tiny bugs in my eyebrows), and tested by the doctrinal and domestic convulsions of the Church to which I have gladly given my life.

Along the way, I have found sympathy and support from many fellow pilgrims - from the excitement of Bishop John Robinson's conclusion to Honest to God (SCM, 1963), quoting Professor Herbert Butterfield: "Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted," to the sobering reality of R. S. Thomas: "God will never be plain and Out there, but dark rather and Inexplicable, as though he were in here" (from "Pilgrimages" in Frequencies, Macmillan, 1978).

Now, in my 80s, as I lean on the altar for support when I celebrate, relying for safety on someone else to administer the chalice, "my flesh also longs for thee like a dry and parched land". With the help of the medical profession, I cope gratefully with my bits that refuse to function as they once did.

So, strangely, after all these years, these four verses become more and more relevant as I prepare to receive my Lord, looking for him once more "in the sanctuary", in the inverted values not of health and strength, but in the "power and glory" of a broken body and poured-out blood.

As life itself becomes more tentative, my increasing dependence can be only on the kindness of God. It is now that ultimate kindness of the Crucified, precipitating the promise of resurrection, that I need to affirm - for myself, and for the mostly elderly people gathered around me.

So I endeavour to bless my God in the remaining days of my life. As I worship in a loving, middle-of-the-road parish church, I sometimes wish that we were a little less inhibited, so that, without embarrassment, I might "lift up my hands" in the divine name.

After receiving the sacrament, I rest in the incomprehensible knowledge that responds to my earnest seeking:

O Lord, thou has searched me out and known me, thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up- rising; thou understandest my thoughts long before. . . If I climb up into heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost part of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

Psalm 139.1, 8-9

The Revd Ian Robins is a retired priest in the diocese of Blackburn.

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