Tuesday, July 7, 2021 (Day 37)

Katie Snipes Lancaster

Psalm 37 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Do not be incensed by evildoers.
Do not envy those who do wrong.
For like grass they will quickly wither
and like green grass they will fade.

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Dwell in the land and keep faith.
Take pleasure in the Lord,
that the Lord grant you your heart’s desire.

Direct your way to the Lord.
Trust the Lord who will act,
and the Lord will bring forth your cause like the light,
and your justice like high noon.

An Opening Word
I love the terse beginning to Psalm 37. It is so easy to be “incensed” these days, either in self-righteous indignation, or media-fueled exasperation. The world is full of people living their most senseless, foolish, monstrous life. And even before there was twitter and twenty-four hour news, the Psalmists felt a need to tell people not to be “incensed.” I feel at least slightly comforted by my ancient comrades-in-faith also having to suffer fools, not to mention evildoers.

I also love how Robert Alter says that the wither-and-fade of grass is “stock image in biblical poetry,” as if the ancient poets had a stockpile of time-honored verbal clipart from which to design the latest biblical text. Nature metaphors like that have a surprisingly long shelf-life, and translate across cultures, geographies, and languages. No wonder we still read the psalms millennia later.

Today’s mystic is one that you’ll come across over and over again if you acquaint yourself with ancient church history, a theologian who brings faith to life centuries after his death. Origen was born in the late second century, and grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, which at the time was an intellectual center of the Roman Empire (think Library of Alexandria) where Christian theology was being worked out in earnest, and a thriving Greek-speaking Jewish community had been vital for centuries. Origen never gained the kind of formal religious authority that comes with titles like bishop, but he wrote over a thousand books, mostly on biblical interpretation.

In the prayer below, Origen approaches the throne of Christ: humble and hungry. He walks the fine line of admitting his perpetual imperfection, while professing the remarkable compassion of Christ to sidle up alongside a sinner like himself.

Prayer from the Mystics: Origen of Alexandria (185–254)
Jesus, my feet are dirty.
Come even as a slave to me,
pour water into your bowl,
come and wash my feet.
In asking such a thing
I know I am overbold,
but I dread what was threatened
when you said to me,
“If I do not wash your feet
I have no fellowship with you.”
Wash my feet then,
because I long for your companionship.