PRAYING WITH THE PSALMS IN CHALLENGING TIMES

Many of us are hurting as we miss our parish communities during this time of isolation. It is good that we have technology to bring the liturgy to us, even if we aren’t sitting together in the pews. Still, there is an underlying ache and longing for what we know and value so deeply. 

God’s word can speak to us in new ways during this time. Our prayer, discernment and learning will strengthen us. The Spirit is creating us anew. Praying with the psalms can bring us much comfort and an appreciation of the resilience of the human spirit.

I am realizing that there are so many aspects of my faith that I take for granted. The prayers and poetic language of the liturgy are examples. Life and its hectic pace can cause us to have a robotic way of being. We go through motions. This is somewhat true of our participation at mass. Have you ever caught yourself going through the grocery list or the tasks that await you through the rest of the day? Now is a time to recapture our awe and passion for the Sacred Word gifted to us. This time of stepping back from the way we’ve always been is an opportunity for contemplation and rediscovering the richness of our tradition.

When accompanying or cantoring the psalm at mass each week, I have felt honoured to proclaim such beautiful ancient text with the congregation. The music and verse become a melodic communal and uplifting prayer. The original 150 texts of the Book of Psalms were meant to be sung. They are the songs of the believer crying out to God for mercy, forgiveness, love and guidance. The themes of the psalms reflect the history of God’s people. We read expressions of praise, heartache, thanksgiving, joy, desperation and the struggle of faith and the sheer love for God. As I reflect on the psalms, they are like scents or melodies that evoke memories of life’s moments. They speak to me in a different way during this time. Choose the language that speaks to your heart and let it repeat over and over, like a form of Lectio Divina, or a song that replays in your head. 

“Our help is in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121)

We would never have enough space to fully explore the possibilities, here are a few to consider. When I was a teenager, we had a Jesuit pastor who played a big red electric guitar and sang with a beautiful velvet voice. I remember him singing Psalm 139. This beautiful psalm reminds us that God knows our challenges, our wonderings and our heartaches and is always present. “O Lord, you search me and know me. You know when I sit down or rise up….Where can I run from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens you are there.” The verse goes on to describe God’s presence even before we walked this earth… “you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” When I am feeling less than all I could be, this verse is a reminder of the unconditional love of God, beside me, in front of me and behind me.

The verse that has been running through my head all this time is Psalm 27. I can hear my colleague in music ministry singing this. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom should I be afraid, of whom should I be afraid.” Our faith makes us strong. “He will hide me in a shelter, he will set me high on a rock…..wait for the Lord, be strong and take courage.” There is always light in the darkness and it is in these moments of challenge that it can shine most bright.  

Psalm 33 gives us the language of hope, a theme that is present in many psalms. “Let your love be upon us, Lord, even as we hope in you….the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” When we observe the kindness and dedication of people during this pandemic, we can see that the steadfast love of the Lord is manifest in the goodness of people. 

Psalm 89 is a wonderful testament to the undying gift of faith. “Forever, I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Like David, we live in a covenant of God’s eternal love. No pandemic would erase this.

As we approach the feast of Pentecost, may we all have faith that these trying times will end and that joy breaks through, in the midst of it all. The Holy Spirit continues to create the world anew. Psalm 104 will definitely bring us a new message at this time. As people of faith, we know that God’s Spirit works through our darkest moments. “Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” May we all be renewed, allowing the Spirit to lead us to new inspirations and ways of being so that this moment does not defeat, but brings hope to all of humanity.

Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s