Psalm 91: it’s a psalm for Lent. Two of the most-loved post-conciliar songs are paraphrases of it. Just about every church composer has given it a go–and why not? It is a deep expression of trust in the Living God. I remember one engaged couple who wanted it at their wedding. “My God in whom I trust,” a married couple could do much worse than verse 2 as a personal motto.
The pastoral care rites advise this psalm for the end of life. I might suggest a use for personal prayer. This is how the Jesuits use it as a text for entering retreat. Monastics pray it before retreating to bed. We place ourselves in the feet of the psalmist who knows where safety and rest abide.
We pray the psalmist’s words, and they are an obvious encouragement. If this was an act of Temple worship, it might have concluded an experience of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After a journey through the heat of day and the dangers of night, and after viewing the birds of the air on this trek, we are asked to rejoice in safety from traps, disease, violence and even warfare:
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shade of the Almighty,
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,
from the destroying plague,
He will shelter you with his pinions,
and under his wings you may take refuge;
his faithfulness is a protecting shield.
You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness,
nor the plague that ravages at noon.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
near you it shall not come.
How suitable for a person suffering a long illness, even our current coronavirus. Thousands have died. Or consider the scourge of cancer–that affliction claims millions. We might well fall injured or sick, but even then, the Lord is near.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.