Recently I caught up with one of my former students. We talked a lot about the health of his family’s farm in East Texas. To date, East Texas suffers from over 24 inches less than average rainfall. “The drought is so bad,” he lamented, “that we have these two trees – been there as long as the farm itself –one dead, the other dying. If the one tree didn’t have roots next to the stream nearby, it would’ve already died like the other one.”
Let me share with you briefly how the Holy Spirit transformed this ordinary conversation about drought into an extraordinary catechetical lesson for me.
Psalm 63 flashed into my head the very moment he mentioned the tree struggling for survival near a stream. I’ve read most of the psalm innumerable times when praying the Liturgy of the Hours:
O God, you are my God – for you I long!
For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts,
Like a land parched, lifeless, and without water.
So I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.
For your love is better than life; my lips offer you worship.”
“I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.
My soul shall savor the rich banquet of praise, with joyous lips my mouth shall honor you!
When I think of you upon my bed, through the night watches I will recall
That you indeed are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Ps 63: 2-9)
David composed Psalm 63 as he wandered in the wilderness of Judah. Biblical scholars have argued that it documents, in beautiful verse, how David felt separated from God at a particular moment in history, identified the fundamental need to establish a close relationship with God to end such feelings of estrangement, expressed his yearning for establishing a close relationship with God, knew intrinsically that he could attain a close relationship with God through prayer.
Scholars have also recognized that verse 4 – “For your love is better than life” – is the only passage in the Old Testament that prized something more than living: God’s love.
For generations, Psalm 63 has broadened beyond its purely historical roots to illuminate the horizons of an intimate relationship between an individual worshiper and God. Today the psalm inspires believers to voice their deepest fears and greatest hopes in prayer. Truthfully, have we not all felt – or maybe even now feel – hopelessly alone and helplessly isolated from God in our own lives? Such a “dark night” leads us to fall on our knees in prayer, asking God how to move forward. Psalm 63 answers our prayers with a discovery for the first time – or perhaps a rediscovery – of how God never really abandons us. What we find when we seek, through prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is God always ready to share his abundant love with us.
Stop wandering in an arid spiritual wilderness. Prayerfully contemplate Psalm 63. Plant your roots near the Divine Stream and, like a tree in drought struggling for survival near an earthly stream, find nourishment and strength in God’s lovely waters.
* Jason Godin teaches U.S. history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two children.