How do we pray in 2020? Psalm 74

Longest Night” is used by permission © Jan Richardson.

Week of November 1: Psalm 74

We begin this series during a week when we will be watching, waiting, and wondering about the future of our country. What better week to lean into the Psalms?

  • Read Psalm 74 (each day or whenever you’re able)
  • Journal for 5 minutes whatever comes to mind. Don’t overanalyze what comes out – just put it out onto the paper.
  • Go on with your day, letting the psalm marinate within you.
  • Look back at your journal at week’s end. What do you notice?

Listen to Mary Alice read Psalm 74 and Lauren read Psalm 74 from Psalms for Praying

Psalm 74: How do we pray when we don’t know how long this will last?
Psalm 74: How do we pray when we don’t have the church building?
Psalm 74: How do we ask for God’s might?

A Word on Praying the Psalms

“There is no aspect of the interior life, no kind of religious experience, no spiritual need of man that is not depicted and lived out in the Psalms. But we cannot lay hands on these riches unless we are willing to work for them… It is no longer so much a matter of study, since the study has been done for us by experts. We need only to take advantage of the texts they have given us, and use them with faith and confidence and love. Above all we need zeal and strength and perseverance. We cannot by mere human ingenuity or talent exhaust all that is contained in the Psalms. Indeed, if we seek only to ‘get something out of them’ we will perhaps get less than we expect, and generous efforts may be frustrated because they are turned in the wrong direction: toward ourselves rather than toward God.” – Thomas Merton in Praying the Psalms

Background on Psalm 74

If it’s helpful, here’s some background information on Psalm 74 from Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr. in Psalms: New Cambridge Bible Commentary.

“Psalm 74 is a community lament growing out of the fall of Jerusalem (587/6 BCE) and the destruction of the temple. It was perhaps composed for services of grief over the defeat… The temple was the center of the universe, and the center of life for ancient Israel. The destruction of the temple meant that the center was gone; life as this community had known it was no more. There was now no place to achieve atonement in human relationships and in the divine-human relationship. The symbols of order and justice have collapsed. The center of the life-giving divine presence is no more. The destruction of the temple was far more than the leveling of a treasured building. It meant the end of ancient Israel’s treasured life, and thus Psalm 74 is an urgent cry of anguish.”

“Psalm 74 is a powerful prayer in the face of ancient Israel’s gravest public crisis. Jerusalem has fallen, and the temple, the central symbol of the gift of life for this community, lies in ruins. The angst is palpable in this prayer that cajoles God to deal with the crisis. The prayer petitions the covenant God to act in the tradition of the Creation, in which God brought order and life out of the chaos. In the midst of the disaster, the community pleads with God to act on behalf of the community and on behalf of the divine reputation. Given this social setting, it is not surprising that the petition is intensely honest. The worshiping community calls YHWH to attend to this new assertion of chaos in the form of the violation of Zion/Jerusalem. Such is the task of the covenant God. The impact of the poem is that Zionthe place of divine presence and revelationis lost but God is not. The psalm persistently and candidly addresses this to God, so the loss narrated is grievous indeed but not final, because God can still be addressed, even from the grip of the power of chaos. The psalm is a persuasive and honest address to God as a model of prayer in worship. In this public claim of pain, ancient Israel seeks to encounter the only truly life-giving one in all of creation.”