Monday, February 24, 2014

How do you pray with the Psalms?

Rita Ferrone has a post up at PrayTell asking how people pray with the Psalms (prompted by her two pieces here and here).

In the second of her two essays she explores Jewish theologian Andre Chouraqui's beautiful essay on the psalms which introduced his translation of them into the French.  Chouraqui called the psalms "150 mirrors of our agonies and our resurrections," an image that continues to call me to hear them as giving voice not just to my own prayers, but as a way for the whole Church, indeed all of creation, to be heard groaning.

When I first read Rita's questions, particularly this one: "What are the challenges, struggles, blessings and rewards of praying with the Psalter, as you’ve experienced it?"I struggled to think how I might respond.  I've prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for 30 years, and think I am of the same mind as Chouraqui — “We were born with this book in our very bones." I've recited the psalms in private, chanted them with monastic communities, sung them at liturgy, and drawn them from the depths of my soul while my husband lay dying. I've heard them on Christ's lips as he hung upon the cross during the Exercises, shivered to hear Allegri's Miserere searing soprano line, swayed as my sons' chorale beat out a percussive Psalm 150.  The psalms are in my bones, the psalms are my bones.

I suspect it might be easier for me to talk now about the moments when the psalms are not hovering at the edge of my mind, not gently insinuating themselves into my day, than to talk about how I pray them.

Ferrone quotes Chouraqui:  "This book was something written down; but they lived it even as they read it, and it was no less necessary to live this book than to read it." which made me think of this snippet of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  "The only way to understand the Psalms is on your knees, the whole congregation praying the words of the Psalms with all its strength."

Perhaps the only way to talk about praying the Psalms, is to pray them with all your strength, allowing your voice to be pulled into the chorus that has sung these prayers for thousands of years.

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