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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, October 25, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Psalm 90:1–6, 13–17

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands! (NRSV)

A passage like today’s is often associated with the majestic Isaac Watts hymn “Our God, Our Help, in Ages Past,” written to paraphrase Psalm 90. But verse 15—which isn’t referenced in that hymn—carried me back to a Boston University classroom, to a course on the literature of prison being taught by Elie Wiesel. As it often did, the discussion had turned to the topic of suffering: the ways in which prisoners endured it, how they lived through it, and, most of all, how the human spirit found ways to rise above it.

Professor Wiesel began retelling the story of Rabbi Zusia and his younger brother, Rabbi Elimelekh, two famously devout Hasidic brothers of the late eighteenth century. Much of Zusia’s life was about suffering. If someone was going to be beaten, it would be Zusia. If someone would fall ill or lose a chance at a fortune, it would be Zusia. As Wiesel wrote in Souls on Fire, “All his life Elimelekh aspired to fulfill himself through suffering, which taunted him by eluding him. Whereas Zusia, constantly beaten by life and tormented by Him who gives life, considered himself to be the happiest of men.”

Clearly we do not wish suffering on ourselves or on anyone else. But what are we to make of verse 15? “Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.” Wiesel explained that Zusia “could not conceive of anything in creation not testifying to God’s mercy.” And maybe this is what we can learn from Psalm 90: that neither heights nor depths can separate us from the love of God. Or, as Isaac Watts had written, “Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.”

Loving God, we cherish all the days you give us in this life. Thank you for carrying us through the storms, for they remind us that you alone are our eternal home. Amen.

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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