Praying the Psalms: Psalm 42

This psalm is a lament and a hunger for God. Can God continue to be silent in the face of such crying out? This psalm gives us real hope.

A deer sitting by a rocky outcrop in the desert
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Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
            the face of God?
My tears have been my food,
            day and night,
While people say to me continually
            “Where is your God?”
These things I remember      
            As I pour out my soul:
How I went with the throng
and led them in procession to the
house of God
With glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
            A multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him
            My help and my God.

© NRSV Bible Catholic Edition, Darton, Longman and Todd, 2005

This is one of the great psalms of lament. A psalm which speaks of the desire of one who is absorbed deep in prayer and longing for God. The poetic image of the deer, thirsting for water in an arid desert, emphasises the depth of this person’s own thirst for God, a God who is the living water (cf. John 4:10-14). Here the psalmist is remembering a past of beautiful liturgical celebrations that gave him or her joy but to which the psalmist no longer has access. The temple of Jerusalem was that place – a place of intimacy with God. Now all the psalmist can do is weep and lament the loss. Can God continue to be silent in the face of such crying out? The last two lines encourage the person to be encouraged, to have hope.


As a sixth-form student in the 1970’s I, along with other students, was taken to the small, picturesque town of Broadway in Gloucestershire to make a three-day retreat. I had never made a retreat before. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t even remember much about it but I do know that it sowed seeds in me that have taken years to blossom, but which have flowered in so many different ways. Above all I believe it sowed within me a deep thirst to know God. I first came across Psalm 42 at the Easter Vigil some years later, following a number of barren years in the wilderness of church practice and belief. I was particularly struck by the deep longing of the psalmist to behold the face of God once more. It touched something within me. Now whenever I hear or sing this psalm, I encounter a thirst deep within myself that has yet to be quenched.

For what do I really thirst? It is a big question.

I know I thirst for justice in a world that fails to really care for its children or elderly. I thirst for a world where no one is hungry and where all the food in the world can be shared out so that all are fed. I thirst for an end to war and conflict in the Middle East and the other numerous countries of our world. I thirst for respect among people of belief and no belief. I thirst for so many things, but ultimately, I thirst to know and trust in the God of love who also thirsts for me. Deep down in me there is this hole, a hole that God created within me and that only God can fill. It is a place for God’s love to enter in, if I can but allow it.


Have you ever experienced being in the desert? This could be physically or spiritually?

Who or what opened your eyes to God?

For what do you thirst?