What prayer does a person say for a loved one who is dying? A beloved friend asked me this question recently and I did not have a traditional recommendation. Such a prayer would be different than the vidui, a final confessional said by the dying person him or herself. That question served as the lens with which I have read Psalm 102, which begins: “Prayer of the afflicted when fainting.”
The psalmist describes dire physical straits: unable to eat, drinks mixed with tears, bones clinging to flesh, and the awareness that human life is as readily changed as a garment. And yet, the Psalm is not all despairing. The poet addresses God with the faith that God will restore future generations to Jerusalem, where they will sing God’s praises. Beginning with Psalm 104, thirty-nine times we will chant halleluyah, let us praise God. In a verbal variation, that sentiment appears here. The Psalmist sees his life ending in mid-stride. And yet, he finds solace in ultimate purpose and continuity of community.
Psalm 102 is proscribed in our tradition for times of illness or crisis.
Our study for Psalm 102 is dedicated to Chalky Samson, marking the completion of his thirty days of mourning for his brother, Eric Samson.