‘One thing I ask of the Lord,
it is the one thing I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.’ (Psalm 27:4 REB)
I used to be somewhat troubled by this prayer, for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, the request seems a selfish one to me. ‘Please, Lord, let me spend my whole life in your house looking at you.’ What about all the suffering going on outside? What about serving others and loving my neighbour?
Secondly, I can’t honestly pray this prayer. There are many things I ask of the Lord, not just one thing. I pray for my children and my grandchildren, that God would keep them in his loving care. I pray for my wife, and for my Mum who turned 80 not long ago. As I get older myself, I pray for good health. I pray for the people in my parish, especially those going through struggles. I pray for many things, and in fact Jesus has invited me to do so.
But this prayer doesn’t bother me any more, because as I get older I’m reading a lot more poetry. I think we have to give the psalmist credit for being a good poet. Poems don’t work the same way as devotional books or works of theology. They use metaphor and imagery, exaggeration and hyperbole. I think the ‘one’ thing the psalmist prayed for is the most important thing: that he would know God’s presence close to him, and that when he was in trouble (see the rest of the psalm for details) he would experience God’s presence as a refuge. I don’t think he literally means he prays for nothing else. I think he means this is the most important thing he prays for.
I can get behind that prayer. ‘What do you seek?’ asks St. Benedict in his Rule. That’s a good question for all of us to ponder! This psalm encourages us to seek the presence of God, to rest in the love of God, to ‘abide’ there, to live there. When we know that sense of God’s presence with us, we can turn to our other prayers and our daily works of love, and offer them to God from a place of rest and peace.
(Today’s One-Year Bible readings are Exodus 15:19-17:7, Matthew 22:1-33, Psalm 27:1-6, and Proverbs 6:20-26)