Meditation on Ps 73

Ps 73

There’s a lot that’s not fair in the impact of this Covid-19 pandemic. It is not a ‘great leveller’ as many have claimed previously.  Those who are poor, in crowded homes, in care homes, those from ethnic minority backgrounds and those suffering domestic abuse are disproportionately affected to name but a few.  And there are many, many more who have been personally affected with illness and bereavement, often alone in the cruellest of circumstances through no fault of their own.

One of the aspects of trauma is the shattering of our assumptions that life is basically safe and reliable, and that if we work hard and play fair, things will generally go well for us – our efforts will be rewarded. The psalmist cried out to God – it’s just not fair, where’s the justice in this? I keep faithful to you, I pray, I keep the commandments, and yet others who ignore you and ridicule me for believing in you, seem to be rewarded with good fortune far more than me?

It takes a lifetime to grow into what we were told in childhood –  life isn’t ‘fair’! We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t rage about it sometimes. Only by doing that, by naming before God our anger about things, can we work through to a place of accepting what is, and find God meeting us in that place. ‘Then thought I to understand this, but it was too hard for me’ says the psalmist, ‘until I entered the sanctuary of God…’ (v16). As Jesus did in Gethsemane, bring your anguish, your confusion into God’s sanctuary, God’s presence, till it is spent, and your soul can begin to quiet in his presence and know;

‘Though my flesh and my heart fail me,

God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever’ v26

Our perspective is shifted, and from that place of stillness and strength in God, we begin to move forwards to be and do what we can.

Hilary Ison

April 2020





Meditation on Ps 23

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long.


You can probably recite this psalm by heart. And, like me, you may have prayed it at the bedside of the dying, chanted it in a quiet sanctuary or entreated it earnestly to yourself in times of trouble. The words flow into and over us as balm to our souls. We breathe deeply the green of the pasture. Our heartbeat slows as we approach the still waters. We drink deeply of the assurance of God who fears neither death nor dark valleys, who leads us on a right path even through disasters. We sit at the table and know that there is enough, there is more than enough. The blessing hand has been laid on our shoulders; our cup overflows. Surely, goodness and mercy.

Psalm 23 is ballast for trying times. These days we need all the ballast we can get. We need the breath of peace, the kind that passes understanding, the kind the Good Shepherd breathed on his disciples in his post-resurrection appearances. We need the clear, cool stream of living water he poured into the thirsty woman’s cup. We need the green, the growing newness of spring – life emerging from the empty tomb, that feeds body and soul.

When the world is topsy-turvy, when our own homes may feel like a prison, when the news is bad and the shadows are long, we are reminded of where our true Home lies. It lies in the hands of God who made heaven and earth, who walked amongst us and bore the worst humanity could dish out, who even now sighs too deep for words. Good Shepherd, Host and Friend, be with us now and forevermore.

Carla A. Grosch-Miller



Meditation on Ps 134

Psalm 134                                        

A Song of Ascents.
1 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
   who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place,
   and bless the Lord.

3 May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
   bless you from Zion.

This is the final Song of Ascent, those psalms that pilgrims may have sung as they approached Jerusalem or the Temple districts. It is an invitation to prayer addressed to those who stand by night in the house of the Lord.

We are living in a kind of night now, as the pandemic eclipses life as it was before. What kinds of prayers are uttered in the night? Honest prayers. Vulnerable prayers. Prayers that groan or weep or wrestle. Prayers of gratitude. Prayers of earnest supplication. Real prayers.

The great gift of the psalms is that they invite and enable prayers we would not want heard in the light of day: earnest laments that explode with rage, tremble with fear or curse the source of our pain. We can even shake our fist towards God: Why have You allowed this to happen? God can hold it. It has all been prayed before. The relationship we are offered with the Holy is intimate and truthful; the veil of pretence has long been torn. And once we offer the raw pain of the real to the Source of our being, we may sense the quiet presence of the One whose love will not let us go.

As the days and weeks of this pandemic unfold, our emotions may surprise us and our losses confound us. Our patience is tested; we come to the end of our ropes. We snap. We struggle. We give thanks for small mercies. Through it all, through the destabilising uncertainties and unsettling “new normal”, we can rely on the reality that God is. The earth may rock and roll, the nations may roar, but God remains, steadfast and sure, ready to catch our tears and set us on our feet, steady and strengthened to do what must be done.

Carla A. Grosch-Miller


Meditation on Ps 19

Meditation on Ps19

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
    and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them;
    and nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
    and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
    Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
    do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

My favourite psalm. But how does it speak to where we are this week? Well, first of all in disconcerting ways. Verses 1-6 speak of the great cosmic song of nature. We know this song can be very violent – as is often said, we ourselves are made from the dusts of stars, and those stars exploded with inconceivable force. And this violence of natural processes has come very close to us this year. We fear it, as many modern First World people have forgotten to fear nature.

The psalm says there is a great unheard song to nature (vv. 3-4), a song in a language we cannot make out, and the psalm says that, paradoxical as this must seem, the song cries out ‘Glory!’ The cosmos in all its violence and threat and harmony and beauty speaks of the unimaginable power and fecundity of God’s creation.  

Then the psalm makes a strange turn, and starts talking about God’s law. The English here is misleading: ‘Torah’ here is much closer to ‘Bible’ (so Westermann). God has written us a song on a human scale, a song of what right living looks like (and sent Jesus to sing it to us). This is the song of wisdom and the fear of the Lord, ‘sweeter than honey/quintessence of bees’ (Robert Alter).

Within the cosmic anthem is our own small song, a song of prayer, for only God can guard our wisdom against our unwitting sins. And the prayer is summed up in the last verse:

Let the words of my mouth (and my emails, my Zooms, my Tik Tok and my texts)

and the meditation of my heart (literally the murmuring of my heart)

be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Wherever we are, however un-wise we feel, and however strong or weak the murmuring of the hearts of those we love, let that be our prayer today.

Christopher Southgate       April 21 2020



Meditation on Ps 31.9-16

Meditation on Ps. 31.9-16

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye wastes away from grief,
    my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,[a]
    and my bones waste away.

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
    a horror[b] to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
    terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, ‘You are my God.’
15 My times are in your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

Although the Psalmist is writing in a very different context, there are extraordinary echoes for us here of our present situation, even being avoided in the street… The parallels are not exact, but verses 12-13 could have chilling resonances for some elderly people in care homes. Not that there is a plot to take their life, but some of the present public discourse implies that such lives have already been written off, are the inevitable and necessary casualties of the crisis.

And there is, buried or not so buried in many of us, terror, bound up in a strange way with grief at so much loss of opportunity, loss of intimacy. All sorts of things I planned for the next few months are gone; I live both with the frustration and sorrow of that, and also the real fear that being in a high-risk group I could be dead in a fortnight.

And yet, and yet, and yet, like so many lament psalms, this makes a turn to trust and to prayer. God is God, beyond knowing, and yet God has made [himself] known – we can cry out to [him] ‘You are my God’ – we can accept, and draw deep comfort from, a sense that our times are in [his] hands, and in all those times, nothing can separate us from [his] love (Rom. 8).

I am struck too by the way the beginning and end of this passage make links with that most ancient of blessings, the one from Numbers 6. I give it in the version I learned, long ago:

May the Lord bless you and keep you

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you

May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you his peace.

Christopher Southgate, April 21 2020








Meditation on lament by Carla Grosch-Miller

This morning as I dutifully engaged in my daily exercise, I walked past a train speeding from Morpeth towards London. I noticed, as I have for the last six weeks, that it was virtually empty. Coach after coach of empty seats, a shadow (a person?) in one. I nearly burst into tears. And I realised that I was holding a deep reservoir of feeling that I did not want to tap into.

My head had been telling me that I was struggling to write this reflection because brains that are searching for safety and predictability, brains that hum with a fear barely discernible to the naked ear, have a hard time engaging all their cognitive function. But the answer was in my heart. The reason that lament felt unavailable to me at this point in the pandemic is that I am not ready to go there. It’s not (just) an intellectual thing; it’s an emotional one.

Lament is the ravaged heart’s cry to the source of her being, the inconsolable ranting that reaches out to demand an end to suffering, the fierce force of living in the face of death that turns towards God in irresolute hope.

In the Bible God is spoken of as the One who hears our cries (Exodus 3:7). The first and only person to name God, Hagar, names God El-roi – God who sees or God of seeing (Genesis 16:13). If only God will hear and see us, surely God will respond. Surely.

The ancient prayer book that is the Book of Psalms contains nearly all the emotions known to humankind. Over one third of the psalms are psalms of lament, personal or communal. God is raged at, castigated, blamed, entreated, begged. Complaints are lodged in detail: God has failed to act or acted too harshly or allowed the wicked to prosper. Revenge is courted. Blood is willing to be spilt. Look now at the Revised Common Lectionary; few of these psalms are included. In the comfort of our Western churches, we are embarrassed about the emotion, find the rawer parts of our nature distasteful, think that Christians shouldn’t have or admit to such feelings. Yet there they are, in black and white and red.

Lamentation is an expression of pain, an articulation of what’s happening now. It is a part of a healing journey which in time, a long time, integrates the experience into our life story.

In our secular world, we find it easier to complain about the government: its response was too slow, the most vulnerable have been ignored, what’s the exit strategy…we can think of and gripe about one hundred and one things that have not been done right with 20/20 hindsight. I wonder if this is a displacement activity. A way of trying to manage the deep anxiety and fear that is thrumming through our bodies. The means of keeping uncontrollable feelings under wraps, in the pretence that we are coping, really we are.

What would happen if we used the age old Judeo-Christian practice of lament (if we are ready, only then)? If we lanced the boil and put the whole mess in God’s hands, God who created this world and gave us the insane freedom to muck it up in the first place?

If you are ready to lament, here is a structure adapted from John Swinton in Raging with Compassion(Eerdmans, 2007, p. 128). The structure is derived from the structure of the psalms of lament.

  1. Address God using any names or titles that speak to you or express qualities of God that you want to call upon. You can use many names.
  2. Make your complaints and be detailed. (Consider how detailed the book Lamentations is.) What has happened? Who is hurting and why? Whose fault, if anyone’s, is it? Give God the full blast of your anger, hurt and fear.
  3. Express trust in or relationship with God. This can be one sentence. See, e.g., Lamentations 3:24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in God.’
  4. Make an appeal or petitions…a request for God’s intervention and why it is needed.
  5. Optional: Vow your praise. Terrible things have happened, and yet I will praise You.

This last step is optional because the lament must be true to where you are in the moment. Many of the psalms of lament include a vow of praise. There is a scholarly debate about why that is. Some consider the vows to be later additions. Others consider the psychology of lament – how expression of pain moves us along and enables us, in time, to praise. The important thing is that lamentation be authentic. If you are not ready to praise, you are not ready.

No doubt there are people who are ready to lament now, who can face God with the full force of their pain. God bless you if you are such a one; God bless and sustain you. And then there will be people like me, who can’t yet count the losses that are mounting up or face into the abyss of fear. God bless and sustain us too.

God bless and sustain us all.

Carla A. Grosch-Miller  10.5.20