Psalm 63: My soul thirsts

‘Your loving-kindness is better than life itself’ (3)

Moses strikes the rock, Arthur Boyd
Moses strikes the rock, by Arthur Boyd

The psalmist in thankful mood declares a profound longing for the influence of divine love, which is ‘better than life’. The title of the psalms is ‘For David, when he was in the wilderness’:

You are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)

The song appears in Lent in Year C alone. The preceding lectionary reading from the Old Testament emphasise freedom of access to any and all in times of isolation or feeling in the wilderness:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! (Is. 55:1)

The related epistle says: ‘Our ancestors … drank the same spiritual drink, the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. (I Cor. 10:1, 4) However, the psalm stands on its own merits as a song of hope. No striking of rocks is involved; just listening for the the cry of the dry and the sound of water.


Still waters
Simplicity, shelter, silence

Hearing recently Henry Purcell‘s lovely anthem Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts was a reminder that he also wrote a setting for Psalm 63 titled O God thou art my God. Whereas last week’s short piece was homophonic, syllables all sung together by the four parts, this longer piece starts that way but then becomes more contrapuntal.  Hassler also wrote a nice setting for six voices a century earlier.

  • Psalms for all seasons only has one responsive setting — nice, the refrain being a little longer than our usual practice.
  • TiS has a congregational hymn rather than a responsive song.
  • Isaac Everett, commenting that the psalm ‘ … reflects a very physical, embodied and sensual sort of spirituality’, offers a simple tune in E minor.

A simple version of our ‘Communion chant’ may be easily adapted to the words below, the refrain tune being a simple mi-re-doh:

Ps63 SWCC cantor.doc

My soul thirsts for God, the living God.

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