One of the spiritual practices that has most nourished me over the past two decades is praying the Daily Office. Twice a day around the world for almost two thousand years, monks and nuns have greeted the rising and setting of the sun by chanting the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible. It is not an exaggerations to say that these poems were the foundation for the development of classical music in the west. In Benedictine monasteries, the community sings all 150 psalms by heart every week. Some of these psalms are chanted every day. Much of the surviving written music that we have up unto the early Renaissance is a commentary on these poems. The psalms form the core of Gregorian chant, and
most of the music of the great Hildegard von Bingen is either an antiphon (prelude) or responsory to the psalms.
I like to say that the psalms- which were such a primary text for Jesus that he quoted them throughout his ministry and even during his crucifixion- are a powerful lesson in learning how to pray wholeheartedly . They are poems that don't shrink from any aspect of human experience. They range from joyful and exuberant ("Clap your hands, all ye peoples!") to the depths of great despair ("I am like a broken pot"). They do not offer only the pretty or "nice" sides of humanity. At first I resisted the so-called wrathful psalms and only wanted to choose the ones that I found beautiful, tender and filled with mercy. Eventually by saying ( or better yet, singing) all of them, I gradually came to realize that to pray with sincerity is to drag every part of me out into the open before God. Not just the things I am proud of, but my pettiness and wounding and anger as well. All of it. The psalms helped me do that.
Now, however, I have a growing discomfort with some of the language. I don't use "Lord" anymore, which is a Medieval patriarchal translation anyway, and words like "righteousness", "vindication" and "sin" feel dangerously judgmental and divisive. Some of the psalms have an "us vs them" distinction which is not part of my world view. I think we are all in it together, each one of us. As St. Paul said, we are all members of one body. To cut off one person, one religion or one nation is like cutting off my own foot or ear.
So I have begun to pray the psalms in a new way- by reading the one assigned for the day ( at http://www.missionstclare.com/english/July/morning/11m.html) and then responding by translating them myself into words that feel true and heartfelt and authentic to me. I am collecting them together for a prayer book- psalms for a new century. I invite you to say- or better yet- sing them with me.
(After Reading Psalm 25)
To you, O God, I lift up my soul;
I put my trust and faith in you;
Show me your ways, O GOD,
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and guide me,
for you are the source
of my being, becoming and healing.
I will remember, O GOD,
your compassion and love,
for they are everlasting.
Help me put away the errors of my past
and remember the unquenchable light that you have placed in my soul
May I see your loving hand of guidance bringing me to truth and goodness
even in moments of challenge where I am brought low.
May I learn the lessons you would teach me.
For those who have the eyes to see,
Both glad joy and dark despair
lead to love.