by Leslie Scoopmire
If you ever pray the service of compline from the Book of Common Prayer, then some of these words, from Psalm 31, are familiar to you.
In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold;
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
for you are my tower of strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me,
O LORD, O God of truth.
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
Make your face to shine upon your servant,
and in your loving-kindness save me.
The first five verses are an option for the psalm reading in that service. I think that’s a beautiful choice.
When I was a little child, I went through a period where I was afraid to go to sleep. It may have had something to do with that terrible prayer that is taught to so many children. You know the one:
Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I’m sure that whoever wrote that had the best intentions. Really. This prayer was written at a time when a perfectly healthy person could go to sleep, and by morning be afflicted by terrible diseases and never wake up. I know the history of that—NOW. Then it just scared the bejabbers out of me. When I was little, all I could think about was that some people referred to dying by the euphemism of “sleeping.” Therefore, I resisted sleep with every fiber of my being. And my being, even then (who am I kidding—even now), had a lot of fiber when it came to stubbornness.
Yet when I was a kid, I also was fascinated by rocks. I had a neighbor who lived across the street, a retired teacher named Myron. He was a “rock hound,” and had a tumbler that polished rocks in his cellar. It amazed me how ugly gray rocks put into the tumbler could come out a day later, still intact, yet revealing a myriad of colors with a glossy sheen. No wonder the psalmist refers to God as a rock and a crag. Myron showed me that rocks can withstand water, erosion, and even tumbling only knocked off the sharp edges. They share their timelessness and trust-worthiness with the Almighty One.
As a child, I was too innocent to think about people setting nets to trap me, as the central verses note. But, as an adult, I find those situations of betrayal to be the thing that hurts the most, which also means that that verse brings me comfort as I attempt to relax into sleep now. The words excerpted from Psalm 31 here are much more comforting words to focus on as one attempts to quiet our minds, still our souls, and relax into rest for the night, because they are based on the everyday erosions on our heart that can rob us of the peace we need to rest.
When we pray, sometimes we can feel God’s presence as if we could touch it; at other times, we try to reassure ourselves that God indeed hears us. This part of psalm 31 starts out with admitting that the psalmist is in need of refuge and deliverance. Yet these first 5 verses are a prayer of confidence. The last two verses also demonstrate that God is with us always.
Yet the psalmist does not express doubt—there is confidence here even in the very first verse, for one does not take refuge in a God who has not already proven to be trustworthy and righteous. The demonstration of God’s saving power will also be a testimony to the world, as pointed out in the third verse, God’s leadership of the psalmist will glorify God’s Name before all who witness God’s saving work.
At the end, the psalmist states that he knows that every moment one has, in the past, present, and future, all belong to God, and God will provide protection. “Make your face to shine upon your servant” is similar to praying for “the light of God’s countenance.” We have all felt the physical force of being in the beam of a smiling, loving face turned toward us. Thus our reading for Sunday’s psalm ends with a positive image of trust in God’s love.
Our times are in your hand, O God, who has made us, known us, and loved us anyway. Your promises of love and mercy and never-failing. With that knowledge, we can lie down in peace, come what may.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Missouri, and will graduate from Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO this month. She is seminarian-intern at Church of the Good Shepherd, Town and Country, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @Scoopexplainsit. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Photo by Leslie Scoopmire: A memento from Eden Theological Seminary