Why Did Ray Lewis Have "Psalms 91" on His Undershirt?

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 3 2013 11:54 PM

Why Did Ray Lewis Have "Psalms 91" on His Undershirt?

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Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates their win in Super Bowl XLVII.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ray Lewis, retiring Baltimore Ravens linebacker, has a message for you: Read Psalms 91.

Lewis has a reference to the psalm, well-known as a hardship prayer, emblazoned on his undershirt and on the shoes he wore during the Super Bowl. This appears to be the second time we've seen the shirt on display in its full glory. It debuted after the Ravens' post-season win over the Indianapolis Colts in early January.

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Here's the psalm Lewis is promoting in full (in the King James translation for maximum flair):

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.

His fascination with Psalms, and with King David, who is traditionally (but not historically) pegged as their author, was explored in a recent New York Times piece:

A conversation with Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis is typically dotted with homespun philosophy, frequent mentions of faith and biblical references. This week Lewis encouraged members of the news media to read Psalm 91, which ends, “With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”
“For me, through the ups and downs, the roller coasters of 17 years, you have to find a safe place,” Lewis said. “You have to find that place that is very quiet in your head, and anytime I read it, anytime I come across it, my Bible, the first Scripture in there is Psalms 91.”
During an interview last year at about this time, I asked Lewis which biblical figure he most closely identified with. Without hesitation, Lewis cited David, who is often depicted as a flawed but righteous king, warrior, musician and poet.

From the way Lewis talks, it's not exactly clear if his recent identification with the psalm (and with David) is a reference to his nearly season-ending torn triceps injury in October, or to his implication in a Super Bowl-party fight 13 years ago that ended with two men dead. The psalm itself is as much about overcoming hardship as it is in taking refuge in the Lord. But in any case, it's become characteristic of Lewis to talk openly and enthusiastically about his faith in interviews. That explains why Lewis, just after winning the Super Bowl and playing in presumably his last NFL game, decided to paraphrase Romans 8:31 in a post-game interview: "When God is for you, who can be against you?"

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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