Teach me how to love the Psalms!
I’ve mentioned before that I want to love the Psalms more than I actually love the Psalms. I can see that God has given us a treasure chest of Scriptural riches here, I know many folks who find these parts of the Bible to be an endless source of spiritual refreshment. But I always have trouble getting into them. (This is especially problematic when praying the Liturgy of the Hours, which is based on the Psalms.)
I am well aware that the problem is with me, and not with the Holy Bible. I also suspect that this issue is related to my general inability to appreciate poetry, which probably comes from my tendencies to be overly analytical. I would like to be able to deepen my appreciation for these timeless verses, and am hoping that you guys can give me some advice that will help me get a clue.
To elucidate my problems, let me give you an example of what it’s like when I pray a psalm. Let’s take Psalm 64 (my interior dialog in italics):
HOW JEN PRAYS PSALM 64
Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy.
Voice my complaint! Yes! Boooooy, do I have a few complaints. And, uhh, I didn’t know it was okay to classify others as “enemies,” but there are some folks who are on my last nerve right now. Protect me from them!
Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.
Totally! Yes! It’s like the psalmist was reading the comments to that big anti-Catholic conspiracy theory forum that linked to me yesterday, where they compared my intelligence to that of common houseplants and ended up arguing amongst themselves about which one of them hates me the most. Cruel words like deadly arrows indeed! Isn’t it awful?! Are you hearing this, Lord?
They encourage each other in evil plans.
Oh, man, totally.
They talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it?”
That’s right — God sees your trash talking, fools!
They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.
Amen to that.
But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
[Imagining that one guy who openly wished that my death will come sooner rather than later: When he goes to write a new update on the thread, his keyboard catches on fire as part of God's wrath!]
He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
Yes. More of this, please. In fact, I’d love a little more detail about how this “everyone sitting around and scorning my enemies” thing works.
All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.
The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!
Hurray! [Imagining The Righteous, a.k.a. me, rejoicing in the Lord, while the Enemy, a.k.a. those who have annoyed me, having been smote and scorned.]
I’m doing it wrong.
I’m neither a Scripture scholar nor a spiritual director, but I’m pretty sure that you’re not supposed to walk away from the Psalms convinced of your own righteousness and other people’s awfulness. I haven’t checked the Catechism on this, but I think we’re not supposed to ask God to strike down our enemies, or hope to see them ridiculed by others — I’m not sure that we’re really supposed to think of other people as enemies at all.
Undoubtedly part of the problem is that I’m making it too personal, and forgetting here that prayer is not all about me. Perhaps I should read these words and think only of what was going on with the psalmist, or turn my heart towards all who have ever felt this way. And maybe I’m just not reading it as poetry, which is likely since, as I said above, I’ve never felt like I “get” poetry (which is weird since I’m a big music lover — feel free to speculate about what’s going on there.)
Anyway, I’m hoping to get some words of wisdom from you all. Any practical tips from how this overly literal, hard-headed person can learn to love the Psalms?New here? Take a moment to introduce yourself, or say hi on Twitter at @conversiondiary.