The words of Psalm 145 are familiar to many of us, especially those who have been here, or in other churches where verses from psalms are used in the liturgy and as prayers on various occasions. The words I am most familiar with in this psalm are those that were for many years used as the Blessing Prayer at meals here at the Monastery until about 35 years ago when we decided to use more contemporary forms. The same words were also used at many other monasteries and retreat houses. Those words in contemporary English are: The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.” (Psalm 145:16-17)
I first heard those words in the language of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer over 62 years ago when I attended the summer camp of the then Missionary District of Spokane in the summer of 1946 when it was re-opened following World War II. As a sixteen-year-old in 1946 I was only familiar with what I considered the standard household table blessing, Bless, O Lord, this food for our use, and us for your service., followed by whatever thanks my father wished to give that day. There was also a simpler prayer that my grandmother taught me when I was about three or four years old, God is great and God is good; and we thank him for this food.
On that first day of camp the summer of 1946 Bishop Edward Cross came into the dining hall at our first meal and greeted us. Then he began singing to Anglican Chant, The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and fillest all things living with plenteousness. (You can find today’s version in the current Book of Common Prayer on page 802.) We sang this table blessing then at the beginning of every meal during the camp session. It was, I think, the first time I had heard prayer being sung except at church services. Later I was to hear it said or sung many times more at retreats or at other gatherings of church people.
The use of those words from Psalm 145 as a table blessing opened my eyes to the use of psalm verses, and other passages from Scripture as prayer. The words, The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season have essentially the same meaning as my grandmother’s prayer, God is great and God is good, and we thank him for this food. But I think that the words from the psalm carry a deeper meaning, and give us more to think about as we pray to God. The contemporary prayers we use now carry the same meaning. In those words we give thanks to God for our daily sustenance and acknowledge our dependence on God for his goodness.
Thinking back I remember other psalm verses that have, or have had their place in our daily prayers. As I recall, another pair of verses from Psalm 145, the first two verses, were used to introduce the prayer of thanksgiving after the meal at the Monastery and many others years ago. “All your works praise you, O Lord, and your faithful servants bless you, they make known the glory of your kingdom and speak of your power.”
Other verses from this and other psalms could also be found in the prayers we used in daily offices and intercessions some years ago. When we read those words as they occur in the Psalter I often recall their use as prayer in other contexts.
When we think of psalm verses used as prayers, or as parts of prayers, we can remember that the Book of Psalms was the Jewish prayer book and hymnal. From the beginnings of the early monasteries in the desert to our own time psalms have had an important place in worship, giving praise and thanks to God and acknowledging our sins and faults. In this way we carry on traditions begun hundreds and thousands of years ago.