A Chaplain/Theologian Reflects on Psalm 102
May 26, 2023
Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash
Empathy is a priestly function.
I only spent five minutes with Sylvia who was struggling with her post-surgical respiratory therapy. She could not keep the little ball in the middle of the device into which she was blowing.
I listened to her frustration. Then, I prayed it back to God. My words. Her sentiments.
The next week, I checked of her and she told me how much courage she had received from that visit, to keep trying and succeed in the exercise.
I had done nothing but listen non-judgmentally and pray with empathy. Yet, it had made a difference in her life and had given her what she needed in the moment.
Over the decades, I have been a volunteer hospital and hospice chaplain. These have been some of my most meaningful moments in personal ministry.
I have prayed with thousands of people at their besides.
However, I have never specifically read this psalm with them in prayer. Perhaps I should have.
For scripture, Psalm 23 has been my standby.
On the other hand, I have voiced the sentiments of the psalm.
My "technique" is no technique at all. I listen to them tell me their story. I listen behind the words. I listen for the prayer they are trying to pray.
Then, with their permission, and without actually saying so, I try to pray their prayer, the prayer of their heart, to God in the light of and against the backdrop of God's love, acceptance, and grace.
Then, they sometimes express wonder at how God seemed to speak to them through that prayer.
And it was them all along, God's voice speaking to their inner voice.
All I ever did, was listen and articulate what they were trying to pray.
Read this psalm slowly against the backdrop of this little glimpse. It has helped me to understand the meaning of what Carlyle Marney described as God's people being "priests to each other."
Read "Priests to Each Other" at - https://amzn.to/43sAY0x
Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you; *
hide not your face from me in the day of my trouble.
Incline your ear to me; *
when I call, make haste to answer me,
For my days drift away like smoke, *
and my bones are hot as burning coals.
My heart is smitten like grass and withered, *
so that I forget to eat my bread.
Because of the voice of my groaning *
I am but skin and bones.
I have become like a vulture in the wilderness, *
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake and groan; *
I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top.
My enemies revile me all day long, *
and those who scoff at me have taken an oath against me.
For I have eaten ashes for bread *
and mingled my drink with weeping.
Because of your indignation and wrath *
you have lifted me up and thrown me away.
My days pass away like a shadow, *
and I wither like the grass.
But you, O Lord, endure for ever, *
and your Name from age to age.
You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to have mercy upon her; *
indeed, the appointed time has come.
For your servants love her very rubble, *
and are moved to pity even for her dust.
The nations shall fear your Name, O Lord, *
and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion, *
and his glory will appear.
He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless; *
he will not despise their plea.
Let this be written for a future generation, *
so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord.
For the Lord looked down from his holy place on high; *
from the heavens he beheld the earth;
That he might hear the groan of the captive *
and set free those condemned to die;
That they may declare in Zion the Name of the Lord, *
and his praise in Jerusalem;
When the peoples are gathered together, *
and the kingdoms also, to serve the Lord.
He has brought down my strength before my time; *
he has shortened the number of my days;
And I said, “O my God,
do not take me away in the midst of my days; *
your years endure throughout all generations.
In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, *
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
They shall perish, but you will endure;
they all shall wear out like a garment; *
as clothing you will change them,
and they shall be changed;
But you are always the same, *
and your years will never end.
The children of your servants shall continue, *
and their offspring shall stand fast in your sight.”