Prayers for an election season (part 1 of 7)

Here in West Michigan (does this happen other places?) quite a few people are putting out signs like this instead of (or together with) conventional campaign signs.

I like this one: “try praying.” The sign says “trypraying.org.” I know nothing about the org and so can say nothing about it, for good or for ill. But I like “try praying.”

The sign made me wonder: if a bunch of us were to agree to pray together through the run-up to the election, how could we pray? Might be best to use good words written long before the current actors strutted onto the stage. Well, what about the Penitential Psalms?

You won’t find the heading “Penitential Psalms” in your Bibles. Nor will you find “penitential psalms” among the types of Psalms identified by Hebrew Bible / Old Testament scholars. It is a label applied to certain psalms in Christian tradition. In this regard it is like “messianic psalms,” to take another example of a label superimposed on selected Psalms in Christian tradition.

In the case of the Penitential Psalms, the selecting and labeling, as far as I know, is usually traced back to Cassiodorus, a sixth-century monk. “Penitential” would refer centrally to contrition for sin, but I don’t think we should limit the word too narrowly: the human condition entail sinfulness, to be sure, but also with it sickness and sorrow, fear and death.

So: here’s the first of the seven (from the NRSV). Notice that the psalmist here does not say anything explicit about having sinned, but “do not rebuke . . . or discipline me” may convey awareness of some sort of culpability. At least the psalmist is aware of being in a bad way, and of needing God’s help to recover from pain and fear—and deliverance and vindication vis-à-vis enemies.

Psalm 6

Prayer for Recovery from Grave Illness

TO THE LEADER: WITH STRINGED INSTRUMENTS; ACCORDING TO THE SHEMINITH. A PSALM OF DAVID.

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O LORD—how long?
Turn, O LORD, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my supplication;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

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