Friday, May 16, 2008

Praying the Psalms

Speaking of the Liturgy of the Hours (below)...

Jews in ancient times didn't just read the Psalms but prayed them. Jesus, an observant Jew, prayed the Psalms from the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and "Into Your hands, Lord, I commit my spirit." The early Christians started praying the Psalms as the prayer of Christ whenever that seemed to fit.

Most of the Liturgy of the Hours is praying Psalms. At first I had difficulty with certain Psalms, the ones that say I'm sick, please heal me! or Enemies are gonna kill me, please smite them! Couldn't really pray those when my life was going just fine. But then I read a little booklet pointing out that this is the prayer of the whole Church, something you pray not just for yourself but for everyone. Plenty of people in the world are sick or seriously persecuted. So now if I get to a Psalm that's too heavy for my own situation, I'll pray it for those who do need it. Often it ends up becoming the most important part of the Hours for me. I'm very bad at remembering to pray for other people, and this helps.

Today's daytime prayer, for example, had extracts from Pslam 59, and when I prayed it I thought of two groups: the many women and girls who are sold into sexual slavery, and the Chaldean Christians in Iraq who are being targeted for extermination.
Rescue me, God from my foes;
protect me from those who attack me.
O rescue me from those who do evil
and save me from blood-thirsty men.

See, they lie in wait for my life;
powerful men band together against me.
For no offense, no sin of mine, Lord,
for no guilt of mine they rush to take their stand.
Awake, come to my aid and see!

O my Strength, it is you to whom I turn,
for you, O God, are my stronghold,
the God who shows me love.

O God, come to my aid
and let me look in triumph on my foes.

That was followed by Psalm 60, and the opening lines make one think of recent disasters in Myanmar and China:
O God, you have rejected us and broken us.
You have been angry; come back to us.

You have made the earth quake, torn it open.
Repair what is shattered for it sways....
Good stuff! I appreciate the Psalms a lot more now. I actually used to think them pretty boring, and I didn't know why so many people spoke of them as one of the best parts of the Bible, but now I'm getting it: the Psalms teach me to pray in ways I wouldn't come up with on my own.


Mary Rose said...

The Psalms are one of my favorite books in the Bible. When I was single, verses such as Ps. 27:14, "Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD." [NKJV] encouraged me to wait for His timing in all things. The Psalms have given me strength and comfort many, many times.

OK...I give up trying to find your version of Psalm 60! :-) I loved this:

You have made the earth quake, torn it open.
Repair what is shattered for it sways....

Which version of the Bible do you use?

pritcher said...

Thanks for these thoughts. I definitely need to keep in mind the universal nature of these prayers more than I do (that would prob'ly also help me get less distracted when I'm praying the Office, too).

I also have trouble with the "please spite them" psalms, especially 149, which does come up a lot (really it seems more like a "please let us smite them" plea, which seems even more problematic). I try to keep in mind that the "two-edged sword" is the Word, but still, the vengeful image bothers me. Have you run across anything helpful for this?

Rachel Gray said...

Hi Mary Rose! I was quoting directly from the English version of the Liturgy of the Hours. Curiously, the breviary uses a different translation for the Psalms than for the rest of the Bible. Here's what it says:

"The texts of all Biblical Readings and Canticles (except the Gospel Canticles and the Canticle of the Lamb) are reproduced with permission from The New American Bible, © 1970....

Psalm Texts except Psalm 95 © The Grail (England) 1963 and published by Collins, London, 1963."

I'm very surprised to see the NAB is used; I thought I hated that translation but I haven't had any problems with the LOH readings. Maybe I only find problems when I'm looking for them. :)

As for the Psalms, I'd never seen that translation before until I started doing the LOH. They flow so naturally that I wonder if the translation was made with verbal recitation in mind.

Hi Pritcher-- I don't recall reading anything about how to deal with the vengeance Psalms. For myself when I read something like

"7 To execute vengeance on the nations,
And punishments on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings with chains,
And their nobles with fetters of iron;
9 To execute on them the written judgment—
This honor have all His saints"

I might think of a just war, like fighting in WWII to liberate Europe, or one of the Crusades to save Europe from Muslim invasion, or fighting to stop the genocide in Cambodia or Darfur (not that anyone did.) We've got world leaders today who surely deserve to be bound in fetters of iron, at the least. And then there's the question of a nation being punished for rampant immorality... now that hits close to home.

In the OT God used Israel as an instrument of his justice; though it was men doing the fighting, it was God's sentence being carried out. Once he even punished King Saul for not utterly destroying the Amalekites and all that belong to them, as he had been ordered to do. And sometimes God used other nations to punish Israel.

There's a lot to think about and I haven't scratched the surface yet. I'd like to see a good analysis of this issue myself.

Mary Rose said...


Thank you! I have to tell you, now I'm chomping at the bit to get the full set! (And yes, I want the leather volumes...) When I tried to Google it, I found two sources.

One was the Athanasian Grail Psalter, and of course the site didn't work. The other source was Psalms: A New Translation - Singing Version.

I have several Bible versions: KJV, NKJV, NIV, NAS, TEV, and then some translations such as the Wuest translation of the NT, J.B. Phillips translation of the NT, and Eugene Peterson's translation of the NT and Psalms.

I've also utilized the Blue Letter Bible online to compare different tranlations of verses.

So, all that to say that when I really love a certain translation, I pursue it until I know exactly where it came from. :-)

I so enjoy your blog and glad Adrienne pointed me in your direction! I'm now going to start to learn about the LOH. You've certainly whetted my appetite!

Rachel Gray said...

Mary Rose, thanks for looking up that Psalms translation! I had no idea the LOH used a "singing version" of the Psalms; maybe that explains why they're so rhythmic...