Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Pass the Psalter

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Pass the Psalter

Article excerpt

All those generations of chanting monks knew the secret to spiritual serenity. Reading a psalm a day from Jesus' prayerbook is good for the modern-day soul, too.

EVERY COUPLE YEARS, I DECIDE I'M GOING TO READ the entire Bible. Cover to cover. This resolution usually follows some experience that has left me feeling scripturally illiterate or inferior, but so far the guilt has not been strong enough to propel me past the Pentateuch. In all honesty, I have to admit I've never even made it to the end of Genesis.

One year, however, I attempted a less ambitious reading plan: I decided to read the entire Book of Psalms. The fact that I made it through all 150 of them probably had less to do with my own dedication and discipline than with the power of these poem-prayers to speak to the everyday concerns of life with an incredible intensity of emotion.

That first time I read the psalms, I was in the midst of grief and sensed that my friends and family were growing tired of hearing about my constant sadness. But every morning I found a fellow sufferer in the psalmist. "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God" (Ps. 69:1-3). Although separated by centuries, I had found someone who could commiserate with me.

But my morning meditative reading of "a psalm a day" was more than a pity party. Because I was reading the psalms in order, I was exposed to the entire range of emotion expressed by the poet (or more likely, poets) who authored these hymns. The psalms of lament--filled with sadness, loneliness, desperation, and even anger--are balanced by psalms of praise--which exude ecstatic joy and gracious thanksgiving.

I think it is this emotional immediacy that has made the psalms some of the most frequently quoted passages from scripture. After all, who doesn't recognize "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want ..." (Ps. 23:1)? For Catholics, most of our familiarity with the psalms comes from their use in the Mass, following the first reading. …

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