1 O hear my urgent cry, my God, and listen to my plea. 2 From earth’s remotest bounds I call when my heart faints in me.
O God, conduct me to the rock that’s higher far than I. 3 For you’re my refuge from the foe, my tower of strength on high.
4 O let me dwell within your tent, for ever there to live! O for the shelter of your wings, the refuge which they give!
5 For you have heard my vows, O God, and you have given me The heritage of those who fear your name continually.
6 Prolong the days the king will live; his sovereign rule extend For many generations more, established without end.
7 May he for ever sit as king enthroned before God’s face; Appoint your love and faithfulness as his protecting grace.
8 Then will I ever bless your name with songs of joy and praise, And will fulfil my holy vows with care throughout my days.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the tune Wetherby here or the lovely American tune Land of Rest here.
Writing around the middle of the 20th Century, the psychologist Abraham Maslow outlined what he called a “hierarchy of needs”. He suggested that human needs and motivations can be portrayed as a kind of pyramid, with the most basic and fundamental requirements for survival at the bottom, and the more esoteric and aspirational goals further up; at the top of the pyramid is “self-actualization”, meaning a person’s desire to fulfil her or his own potential. We start at the bottom and build upwards.
Although Maslow’s methodology and conclusions have been criticised (and indeed he himself continued to refine his theory over time), in broad terms this is an idea that seems to make sense, and to resonate in our experience: when we’re deprived of food or physical warmth, for example, we’ll worry more about meeting these needs than about adding to the books on our shelves.
There’s a trace of this, in miniature, in today’s Psalm: the general progression from desperate plea towards confident praise, and the particular progression in the detail of what the Psalmist is seeking. First comes the cry to “conduct me to the rock that’s higher far than I” – to be brought simply to a place of physical preservation from surrounding danger. Then, the request to “dwell within your tent” – to enjoy the comfort and hospitality that can be found in an offer of sanctuary. Yet once this is in place, the very next phrase reveals a yearning for an even closer intimacy: “O for the shelter of your wings”, a feeling of being held close within the presence and protection of God.
We, and the people among whom we serve, may each be at different places on the journey – at different points on a pyramid of personal needs and concerns. So in our worship, work, and witness, in aspiring towards spiritually mature and cohesive communities, let us not overlook the more fundamental needs close-at-hand: shelter, food, and a place of safety.
Our Father in heaven, your name be praised, your kingdom come, and earth and heaven enact your will. Give us the food we need this day… (and when hunger is assuaged:) bring release from guilt and from debt… (and when freedom is known:) keep us from being put to the test, and rescue us from evil. For you rule, God, eternally, and the power and the glory are yours. Amen.
The Rev’d Dominic Grant, minister, Trinity URC Wimbledon
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