Praying the Psalm

Today is my birthday. I’m not fishing for birthday greetings. In fact, I only bring it up because it happened to spring to memory today that I used to have a birthday practice of praying a Psalm. On my birthday each year, I would look up and begin to commit to memory the Psalm that corresponded to my year of life. I began this practice when I was 31, and on my birthday, I began my 32nd year of living. Therefore I would pray Psalm 32 each day of that year. Then, when I turned 32, I’d start praying Psalm 33 each day for a year and so on.

That was the ideal, anyway. In practice, things were much spottier. Still I loved this idea. I had come across it, I believe by way of Rabbi Rachel Rosenblatt, who, during her formation years went by the moniker The Velveteen Rabbi. (“One day I will be a REAL Rabbi.”) Maybe it wasn’t her blog. Maybe I picked it up somewhere else, but she’s the one, in my mind, who gets the credit.

As I recall, praying the Psalm of one’s life year is a Hassidic practice. Maybe it isn’t something that the entire Hassidic community does. Maybe it’s just something instituted or spoken of by the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter. It’s still a neat idea.

Over the years, I had forgotten about doing this. In the First Half of Life I had a very different approach and outlook on prayer, in general, but in this Second Half, I hold all of that much more loosely. I’ve learned to hold pretty much everything more loosely. And so this practice became much less important, much less urgent.

But something told me this morning as I woke up to look up my Psalm. Today I turn 53, so my Psalm this year is #54, and here it is, according to the Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

Prayer for Vindication

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “David is in hiding among us.”

54 Save me, O God, by thy name,
and vindicate me by thy might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
    give ear to the words of my mouth.

For insolent men[a] have risen against me,
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before them. Selah

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder[b] of my life.
He will requite my enemies with evil;
    in thy faithfulness put an end to them.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to thee;
    I will give thanks to thy name, O Lord, for it is good.
For thou hast delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.


  1. Psalm 54:3 Another reading is strangers
  2. Psalm 54:4 Gk Syr Jerome: Heb of or with those who uphold

So, there it is. An imprecatory Psalm. A prayer for vindication before one’s enemies. I dunno. Do I have any enemies? I have a lot of people I disagree with, not to mention a lot of people who disagree with me. But enemies? Not really. There are some folks that have treated me unfairly, and I even hold a fair amount of anger against them still, but I don’t see them as enemies. I’m not a wealthy person by First World standards. In that sense, I don’t even have a lot to complain about, so the concept of enemy is pretty far removed from my life. In other words, this Psalm, on this occasion of my 53rd birthday and the start of my 54th journey around the sun, just doesn’t really speak to me. Not right now anyway.

And so, as with all prayers and approaches to prayer, I will acknowledge this Psalm, but I will hold it loosely. Maybe holding it loosely enough while putting it out there like this will enable *you to grab hold of it, if your life situation feels different from mine. Maybe this is YOUR blessing. May it be so.

1 Comment

  1. Cindy says:

    I googled the definition of enemy and the first two entries related to people. The third read this: a thing that harms or weakens something else.
    Just another way to look at your Psalm that could make it more meaningful.


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