Thursday, November 10, 2011

Psalm 114/3: God hears our prayers

Folio 66v, Belles Heures of Jean de France
Metropolitan Museum of Art (
Today’s verse of Psalm 114 (116) features one of those delightful anthropomorphisms, with the psalmist giving us an image of God as an old man, bending towards us in order to hear what we are saying:

Quia inclinávit aurem suam mihi: et in diébus meis invocábo.
Because he has inclined his ear unto me: and in my days I will call upon him.

St Basil the Great points out that this is an image for our benefit, not to be taken too literally:

“He inclined, he said, not that you might take some corporeal notion about God having ears and inclining them to a gentle voice, as we do, putting our ear close to those who speak low, so that by the nearness we may perceive what is said, but he said, 'He inclined’ in order that he might point out to us his own weakness. Because through kindness He came down to me while I was lying on the ground, as if, when some sick man is not able to speak clearly because of his great weakness, a kind physician, bringing his ear close, should learn through the nearness what was necessary for the sick man. Therefore, 'He hath inclined his ear unto me’. The divine ear, indeed, does not need a voice for perception; it knows how to recognize in the movements of the heart what is sought.”

Phrase by phrase

Quia inclinávit =for he has inclined/bent

quia, conj. for, because, that. truly, surely, indeed;
inclino, avi, atum, are, to bend, incline

aurem suam mihi = his ear to me

auris, is, /. the ear.
suus a um his
me, me, myself

That is to say, ‘For he listened to/heard me’.

et in diébus meis =and in my days [= while I live, or as long as I live]

dies, ei, m. and /.; fem. a day, the natural day

invocábo = I will call [upon him]

invoco, avi, atum, are, to invoke, call upon (God);to put trust in

Keep praying…

The key message of this verse, St Basil argues, is that we must keep praying, every day of our lives:

“If we have prayed on one day, or if in one hour for a brief time we were saddened by our sins, we are carefree as if we had already made some compensation for our wickedness. However, the holy man says that he is disclosing his confession which is measured by the whole time of his life, for he says: 'In all my days I will call upon him.' Then, in order that you may not think that he called upon God because he was fortunate in this life and because all his affairs were successful, he describes in detail the magnitude and difficulty of the circumstances in which, when he was involved, he did not forget the name of God. “

It is St Augustine, though, who perhaps puts this instruction into the context of praying for the dead, reminding us that this life is only an intermediate stage, and we must keep our eyes fastened on the ultimate reality:

“…And what are your days, since you have said, In my days I have called upon Him? Are they those perchance, in which the fullness of time came, and God sent His Son, Galatians 4:4 who had already said, In an acceptable time have I heard you, and in a day of salvation have I helped you? Isaiah 49:8 ...I may rather call my days the days of my misery, the days of my mortality, the days according to Adam, full of toil and sweat, the days according to the ancient corruption….

Psalm 114

Diléxi, quóniam exáudiet dóminus vocem oratiónis meæ.
I have loved, because the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer.
Quia inclinávit aurem suam mihi: et in diébus meis invocábo.
Because he has inclined his ear unto me: and in my days I will call upon him.
Circumdedérunt me dolóres mortis: et perícula inférni invenérunt me.
Tribulatiónem et dolórem invéni: et nomen Dómini invocávi.
O Dómine, líbera ánimam meam: miséricors Dóminus, et justus, et Deus noster miserétur.
Custódiens párvulos Dóminus: humiliátus sum, et liberávit me.
Convértere, ánima mea, in réquiem tuam: quia Dóminus benefécit tibi.
Quia erípuit ánimam meam de morte: óculos meos a lácrimis, pedes meos a lapsu.
Placébo Dómino in regióne vivórum

Notes on the next verse of the the psalm can be found here.

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