Talk to me about the Psalms

June 23, 2009 | 87 comments

I’ll be on the road heading home from our trip to Houston this afternoon, so I thought I’d let you guys do the talking today. Here’s what I’d like to get your thoughts on:

I feel like I don’t “get” the Psalms.

Ever since I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours, which is centered around the Psalms, I’ve realized that these ancient songs don’t seem to resonate with me as strongly as they do with other people. I do appreciate the way they chronicle the highs and lows of the human experience, but a lot of times I just don’t know where the psalmist is coming from, and some of them seem to go against Christian teaching (e.g. the psalmist asking God to smite his enemies in Psalm 69). I realize that we Christians believe that, as part of the Old Testament, the Psalms need to be understood in light of what God revealed in the New Testament…but I guess I don’t understand why they continue to play such a big part in Christian prayer then.

Anyway, I know that the problem is me and not the Psalms; believers have found deep inspiration in them for thousands of years, so I’m clearly missing something. Anyone have any thoughts? How can I better appreciate these sacred poems? (As always, book recommendations would be great.)

87 Comments

  1. Sarah

    I don't get a lot of the Psalms either, especially in the Liturgy of the Hours. If you put it in any context or structure I'm lost.

  2. Curryba

    I know what you mean! I have learned and read that the psalms should be understand as the hymnbook for God's people. They were sung and used in worship in Israel, and for the Church they are a template for how we can worship God, individually and corporately, in all circumstances.

    Since David wrote so many of them, I think it helps to keep reading through his life story in 1 and 2 Samuel. Somehow, David was "a man after God's own heart," even though he committed adultery and murder and had other failings.

    It seems like he was a man after God's own heart in spite of those things b/c he worshipped God wholeheartedly (almost every other king mixed some idol worship in there or at least allowed the idol worship to continue in Israel and Judah) and he truly repented from his sins, even his most heinous ones. Psalm 51 is the key to understanding David's heart and probably one of the best passages in the Scripture on repentance. (Psalm 32 is relevant, too.)

    I like the psalms because they show that a lot of what passes for piety is not. (So often our response to suffering sounds like Job's comforters, whom God condemned.) When horrible things happen, we don't have to sigh and look to the sky and say, "Oh well, that was God's will." We can pour out our real hearts before God.

    The other thing I've heard that I really loved about the psalms was that whatever torments and doubts we may experience, eventually our relationship with God is going to resolve into praise. All of the psalms toward the end are pure joy and praise.

    Sorry, WAY too long. It is just such a good question. (And I'm supposed to be doing something else, that always helps.) None of the wisdom literature is as straightforward as the rest of the Bible. I will be excited to see what everyone says.

  3. Anonymous

    Julie:

    I am in the exact position that you are in. I find the Psalms to be baffling, awkward and sometimes downright distasteful. I don't "get" them, either.

    I also pray the Divine Office (although I use the Monastic Diurnal instead of LOTH because I like the language better).

    For help with my problem,I recently started using the 3 volume commentary on Psalms by James Montgomery Boice.

    These books do a verse by verse and section-by-section exposition. It strikes a happy medium –neither dumbing down the subject nor do you need a seminary degree to understand it.

    Boice is not a Catholic, but I personally do not find this to be a problem; The books have been a tremendous help and blessing to me.

    I look ahead to the next days Psalms, read them and then read the commentary so that I understand and am prepared for the next day. It's made a big difference in my appreciation of the Office.

  4. the Fish

    C S Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms has a way of looking at them I've not seen elsewhere. Though I'm not sure I entirely agree with him, it's good food for thought.

  5. Matt

    I remember feeling the same way, but recently I listened to the psalms on tape and it changed my whole understanding of them. When you listen to them, one right after another, what emerges clearly are the general themes – the need for God, the idea that there is both good and bad in the world, the need for repentance, forgiveness and God's help in dealing with problems … It made all the difference to me.

  6. izhilzha

    The Psalms have been a wonderful source for me over the years, but I know plenty of people who have exactly the same struggles with them that you mention here.

    For me, the Psalms aren't just a chronicle of the highs and lows of human experience: they're an opportunity for me to be equally as honest with God about my own highs and lows as the Psalmist was. If it was okay for David, a "man after God's own heart," to get angry, to plead with God, to tell Him to hurry it up, and to proclaim God's glory in the context of all the evil and rubbish in the world around him, then it's okay for me to do the same.

    Many time the psalms, in fact, require me to be more emotionally honest than I really wanted to–and I believe that has helped me grow closer to God and understand that He knows me and loves me as a redeemed human being.

  7. Otepoti

    "Reflections on the Psalms", C.S. Lewis.

    He addresses the problem of the imprecatory passages, and (of course) explains the poetry well.

  8. Leslie

    Part of the problem we have with the Psalms is that we don't read them in their proper historical/cultural context. Instead, we read them in light of our own culture, which only causes confusion. For example, Psalm 23 has got to be one of the most misinterpreted portions of Scripture. A great book to read to better understand Psalm 23 is "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23" by Phillip Keller. There's also a great Bible study that focuses on Psalms 120-134 – "Stepping Up: A Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent" by Beth Moore.

  9. Jasmine

    I love the psalms!!

    I don't have any real advice, but here's one thing: Remember that the 'prayer of the Church' is for the whole Church. You will not identify with every psalm at every moment, so when you pray them think of all of the people in the world praying with you who DO identify with the psalm. Pray for them and on their behalf.

    I find it hard to believe that you don't identify with the psalms! Here are a few that I'm sure every Christian can identify with:

    "As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God." – Psalm 42

    "7 When I think of you upon my bed, through the night watches I will recall 8 That you indeed are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. 9 My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me." – Psalm 63

    "11 Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my guilt.
    12 A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit." – Psalm 51

    "Why do the nations protest and the peoples grumble in vain [against the Lord]?" – Psalm 2

    …I could go on, but I'll spare you! 🙂

  10. Fr. Christian Mathis

    Jennifer,

    First of all, thanks for the post. You have a great way of inviting your readers into discussion on this blog and it is a great gift.

    On the psalms I have a couple of thoughts. One reason we use the psalms in prayer is that they would have been the prayer book of Jesus. In fact, there are many places in the Scriptures where the words of the psalms are the words on the lips of Christ, including on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" comes to mind most easily.

    The other thing that always helped me was knowing that they express to God our deepest human feelings and emotions, those things that are oftentimes the most vulnerable to reveal to anyone, including God.

    Something that helped me was the advice of a priest in seminary who suggested that when we are praying a joyful psalm and don't feel all that joyful or one of great pain when we are happy, is to remember that this is the prayer of the whole Church and as such we may be praying for someone else who is feeling those particular things.

    Anyway, hope this is helpful.

    Peace,

    Fr Christian

    • ANN FORRER

      THANK YOU FATHER! I NNEDED TO BE REMINDED OF USING THESE PSALMS AS A PRAYER FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH AND NOT JUST FOR ME! THIS IS JUST SO HELPFUL!

  11. Marie

    We sing the psalms in our church ever Sunday.

    Get a psalter (RPCNA is a good source) and an accompanying CD and sing them!

  12. Bender

    I can fully sympathize, especially with those parts of, not only the Psalms, but other parts of the OT that seem to be inconsistent with the NT (e.g. God smiting, war, etc.)

    One thing you might try is, rather than praying the Psalms, trying to "get something" out of them spiritually, read through them start to finish in study or research mode — more of a scholarly approach than a prayerful one, keeping in mind both the NT and the historical context in which they were written, various times when the people of Israel were being threatened either from without or from within, not only militarily, but from threats of polytheism and multiculturalism that, ultimately, did destroy much of Israel, including dispersal, exile, intermarriage, and apostasy. Reading them in a more intellectually dispassionate way might help in gaining some understanding as to the meaning of the Psalms, such that you can then go back and re-read them and "get them" prayerfully.

    Many of them were written to give encouragement and hope, as many writings of the OT were, especially the promises of deliverance (a Messiah) and a New Covenant. Not a few of the Psalms will jump out at you with fairly clear references to Christ and the Passion.

    As for God's wrath, etc. Having just finished reading the entire OT, all this talk of war is disturbing. But reading it in the context of the whole, especially the NT, that is, in the light of Jesus Christ, perhaps we should not take so limited a view of who God's "enemies" are. Rather than Philistines or Assyrians or Babylonians or other nations of the ancient world, the greatest enemy of God, the enemy that should be and has been smited, is the forces of evil — Satan, etc., as well as sin and death. If we read the oh-so-many wars in the OT as foreshadowing the real war (just as many other things in the OT foreshadow the NT, e.g. the Flood), the war against evil and death, then it is much more consistent with the NT.

  13. Anonymous

    I have the same problem — it helps when instead of thinking of them as Church liturgy with all that etc., I realize these are actually individual poems written by individual people (person). Pretend you're reading one in the Oxford Anthology of Poetry — can you see it then? The Bible communicates through different genre, too — you can't read Genesis the way you read Deuteronomy, right? Proverbs? Ruth? Let it be literature that you then see the prayer in, instead of just looking at them as a bunch of prayers?

  14. Melanie B

    Jen, I'm really tired this afternoon; but I think this is a fascinating question and I can't leave it alone. So here are some random thoughts off the top of my head.

    First, book recommendations:
    I highly recommend a little book that my dad gave me called The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine office for All Christians by John Brook published by Liturgical Press. (and by little I mean small enough to fit in your pocket or your purse so you can very easily take it along with you when you're out and about!) If you're going to get just one book, I'd say this is what you want. It gives general guidelines for how to pray the Psalms and then goes through the entire 4 week cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours commenting on each day's Psalms, canticles and readings. The commentaries are great, highlighting both the meaning in the Old Testament context, how ancient Israel would have read it and then highlighting how the Psalm should be read as fulfilled in Christ. Each commentary is not super long or in great depth but are generally enough to give me a foothold when I feel I'm floundering with how to approach a particular Psalm.

    I also use The Navarre Bible book on The Psalms and the Song of Solomon. This contains the text of all the Psalms and a line by line commentary on each one. These commentaries also discuss not only the original Hebrew context and illuminate connections to other books of the Bible but also the Christian interpretation, sometimes highlighting various Church Fathers and saints.

    Lastly, an easy read and a book that is very accessible and helpful is C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms. I don't actually own this book but read it at my mother-in-law's house and keep meaning to buy a copy.

    Now on to some thoughts on how to appreciate the Psalms…

    The Psalter is the book of the Old Testament most often quoted in the New Testament, so obviously the writers of the New Testament felt like it was pretty relevant to their understanding of Jesus. The Psalms were read as foretelling Jesus' life and death. The Fathers of the Church took the whole Psalter and explained it as a prophecy of Christ. So one thing that can help is to try to see Christ in the Psalm, how does this Psalm speak of his life and death?

    Also, the Psalter is traditionally read as containing all of God's revelation to ancient Israel, every theme contained in another part of the Bible is contained in the Psalms. So taken as a whole it is a sort of condensed version of the Bible.

    The other thing is that the genre of the Psalms is prayer, they are conceived as a dialogue between God and man. The Psalms don't just tell us about God, they help us to talk to him and to hear his voice talking back to us.

    One thing that helps me with the Psalms is to remember that Jesus would have prayed them himself every day. When he stood in the Temple and spoke to his Father, these are the words he would have used. So when we pray the psalms, we not only pray to him but also with him. It sometimes helps me to imagine Jesus himself speaking these words.

    As to how the Psalms seem to contradict Christian life, here it is helpful to read references to enemies as referring not to individual people but to sin and temptations to sin. It is not against human enemies that we struggle but against principalities, the forces of darkness. The sword we wield is the
    sword of the spirit, the word of God.

    Oh baby's awake. Maybe I'll add more thoughts later. But hopefully that will help a bit?

  15. Bethany Hudson

    To me, the Psalms are all about honesty. As you said, they don't always preach Christian values (such as in Psalm 69), what they undoubtedly preach, however, are the deepest thoughts and emotions of the faithful psalmist. The Psalms always acknowledge God and Man's relationship to Him. Other than that, they can cover any number of topics. They are prayers, but not just any prayers: Prayers that come from the depths. Sometimes, I admit that I don't actually feel like I'm coming from the same place as the psalmist when, for example, we get to the responsorial psalm in Mass. I might be feeling pretty good, while the psalm is proclaiming a desperate need for God's help. Or, maybe I'm feeling really down and the pslam is a joyful one. When this happens, I remember that I am a part of the communion of saints and, while the pslam may not speak to my heart at the moment, I trust that somewhere there is a saint whose heart is uttering that prayer and that someday my heart will be uttering the same prayer, and we are all praying together these gorgeous timeless prayers–not only for ourselves but for each other.

    Anyway, that's what the pslams mean to me.

    ~Bethany

  16. Elisa

    I really appreciated your post, maybe because I've struggled with the same thing. But something a friend of mine said recently really resonated with me: that we can pray the psalms as members of the Christ's body, both the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant. I've found this enables me to pray the psalms in a variety of new ways! To groan with those who suffer, to rage against evil with the Holy Spirit, and to extend love with the saints to God.
    Anyway, I hope that helps! Oh, and I would also check out C.S. Lewis' "Reflections on the Psalms"

  17. Colleen

    When I did Beth Moore's Stepping Up bible study – the gist I got was that you are always to lay all your cares and burdens with God – not gossip with friends, not take it all out on your husband, but take it straight to God – not that you'll get the answer you asked for(smoting your enemies) but when you give it to God it's our of your worries in the everyday – and he can help change your heart.

  18. Julie

    I first discovered the Psalms when I was going through a particularly difficult year in my life. Experiencing feelings of abandonment and worry about the future brought me to feeling a great kinship with many of the Psalms. They felt like cries from my own soul.
    I still pray them almost daily, working my way through the book in order, and they are like old friends coming for a visit.

  19. Sara

    How apropos. This book just showed up in the mail today . . . a birthday present from a friend on this very subject. It's written by my college chaplain, who is always excellent.

  20. Exsultet

    Hi Jen. First things first — I love your blog. I'm a fellow convert (Easter Vigil 2008) from Austin and discerning my vocation. In fact, I'm probably going to begin the application process for seminary as soon as the new vocations director starts this summer, so please pray for me!

    Anyway, on the psalms, let me say don't give up. I've been praying the Liturgy of the Hours in part for a year now and in whole for about six months, and the psalms have just started to really click for me. I don't know that I'm able to put that experience in words just yet, but I'll gather my thoughts and meditate on it and if I can I'll put something down either here or on my own blog (once I get that blog started, that is).
    Until then, I'll share a few things that helped me:
    First, I think what I got out of the Liturgy of the Hours greatly improved after I stopped praying them silently and began praying aloud, even if only at or barely above a whisper. After all, it is meant to be prayed aloud, and this also (at least for me) helped me to slow down so I could appreciate what I was praying more.
    Second, while I don't have a book recommendation, I do have a blogpost recommendation: I think the Anchoress's post on the psalms is good: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/theanchoress/2009/05/15/what-is-your-favorite-psalm/
    Third, as I began spiritual and theological reading, I noticed the psalms cropping up a lot. The Church Fathers seem to have used them quite a bit, and more recently I saw Pope Benedict reference Psalm 19 in his chapter on sacred time in "The Spirit of the Liturgy". Reading these commentaries and citations on the psalms can really help me get a feel for that psalm's symbolic meaning when I am praying it.
    Last, I heard a seminarian from this Diocese speak briefly about the psalms. He talked about how the psalms cover such a wide range of emotions, from passion to joy to sadness to anger at God. He said that when we pray a psalm, we should look for the emotion of that psalm, so that when we have that emotion the psalm becomes a way of expressing it to God. We can express our joy — or, with the correct psalm we can express anger, and then the psalm helps us to express that angry or sad emotion which we have to God, when we might otherwise be afraid to do so. The psalm in a way makes it okay. (I, for example, have done this once with Psalm 22, Jesus's cry on the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?")
    And, he said, sometimes we -don't- feel the emotion a psalm is trying to convey. And then we should think, "Who is out there right now who feels this way? Who is angry at God (or rejoicing, or depressed, or lonely, as the case may be)?". And then we use that psalm to pray for those people, whether it is someone we know personally or just people "out there" that we may have never met but nonetheless feel that emotion.
    As a seminarian, using the psalms to pray for people was a way for him to form a priestly heart, which is the way I've been looking at it now as well. But for those who are not ordained or discerning the priesthood, I think it's still a great way to fulfill our duties in the baptismal priesthood and to carry out the spiritual work of mercy of praying for the living and the dead.
    I hope my comment has been of some help to you, or at least to someone who reads this. May God be with you as you continue to pray the psalms.

  21. Patrick

    One of the greatest experiences of my whole life was during an ignatian retreat—the launching off point was the last part about the "enemies" in Psalm 139. Other than that one time though, I am afraid that they leave me spiritually dry, but they do give me a fuller portrait of King David.

    Patrick

  22. HIS Daughter

    Hi,
    I found your blog through another blog. I think the young woman's name is Kacie??? Anyway, she signed up to follow my blog because I'm getting ready to chronicle my journey – from the land of the Protestants to the Catholic Church.

    I live in the South and in a small town right now…so my husband and I have shocked everyone here in our town…and our families as well.

    I'm going to follow your blog so I can come back and comment if you don't mind. I'm a nice safe person…I just pulled my entire profile down after being hit with my first ever anonymous comment calling me the "whore of Babylon" and hoping my family died!

    People I do not even know seem to be circling around Catholic Convert blogs and websites. Some man I don't know wrote me an e-mail and started asking me about my husband and my life from my profile…and if my husband and I had read all these books by whoever.

    You know…you are a remarkable person to come to a real faith without baggage from anywhere.
    I'll come back and talk to you about the Psalms if you like. Some people just don't like them alot..my husband prefers Proverbs.
    …sorry to go on and on…
    Blessings,
    Teri

  23. bearing

    I know what you mean, oh yes I do. To answer one of your questions (why they continue to play such a big part in Christian prayer) I think it's because they represent most of the natural, HUMAN responses towards God. It took Christian revelation to transcend some of these reactions — without Christ, every plea in the Psalms makes a lot of sense, and only in the light of Christ does it become difficult to understand. They communicate questions like "why are bad things happening to me, a good person?" and "why are good things happening to those bad people?" They communicate the very human tendency to ask God to be on our side (rather than asking God to help us be on HIS side.)

    Let me suggest a mishmash of things that I have come up with and that other people have suggested to me. Take what works, leave what doesn't of what follows.

    Reasons why the psalm doesn't resonate vary. I think this is a pretty good list:

    1) The psalmist is complaining about what a crappy deal he's getting out of life, and you're actually pretty thankful and glad about things right now

    2) Opposite: The psalmist is thanking and praising God for all the wonders he's done for him, and you're actually having a really bad time

    3) The psalmist is asking God to smite his enemies and/or praising God for smiting his enemies in a very un-Christian or at least pre-Christian manner

    4) The psalmist is suggesting that he, the psalmist, is a really great and fabulous and faithful and wonderful person and God ought to have noticed this by now

    5) The psalmist is bargaining with God: "Spare me, and I'll praise you"

    One thing that has helped me is to recognize that, even though it isn't the RIGHT thing to do, *all these tendencies exist in myself.* I bargain with God. I praise myself. I wallow in self-pity. I want God to do things to bad people to show them they're bad. I pray harder when I am scared or want something, and I'm more thankful when things are going well and forget to be thankful when I don't do what I want. So in one sense, the psalms force me to acknowledge how much I need Christ, because I can see that the psalmist needs Christ.

    Another thing someone suggested is to see the "enemies" in the psalms as supernatural ones — the ones who really are out to get you, and who we're perfectly free to ask God to "cast into hell" (see also "St. Michael the Archangel, prayer to")

    A third thing is, when the psalmist is going on about "the wicked you will utterly destroy" and so forth and so on, to consider this as a warning to yourself: Don't be wicked. When the psalmist is going on about how he is good, but by comparison his enemies or "the nations" are bad, you can consider that every day you have a choice to be like the Good Guy the psalmist thinks he is himself, or like the Bad Guy the psalmist thinks his enemies are.

    Just some thoughts. Good topic, one I've considered many times (obviously, as I already have some thoughts). I might have more thoughts later.

  24. NC Sue

    Oh wow, Jennifer – thanks for confessing that there are times you don't "get" the psalms. Now I can come out of the closet and acknowledge that there are many psalms that leave me feeling confused, too.

    Take my personal favorite, # 139. The first 18 verses are lovely, inspiring, uplifting, wonderful. Then?

    19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!

    20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.

    21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you?

    22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.

    Add to this 2 more wonderful verses, and I find myself getting a bit edgy. I can't figure out the connection between a God who foreknew each of us, created us, sustains us, and knows everything about us with the declaration of hatred for enemies and requests for their deaths. It seems out of place. My solution is to skip those verses, but that seems wrong, too.

    I'm looking forward to the responses of others to your question!

  25. Cheryl

    I really wouldn't worry about it too much if you find they just don't speak to you. Seeking to understand them more is good, and wanting to be able to appreciate them for what they are is also good – but not every part of the Bible will really resonate with every person (just as it's good to learn about, say, Baroque period music and art, but if it just doesn't "touch" you, that's okay – maybe Impressionism is your thing. Doesn't mean there's no good in the Baroque, just that that's not "you".).

    That said, though I'm not much moved by the Psalms either, there are a few individual ones that I like – predominantly Psalm 22, which, some say, may have been what two of the sayings from the cross were from – i.e. Jesus may have been reciting the psalm to Himself, with the first and last lines audible to others. Whether or not that's actually true, it's still an interesting possibility.

  26. Jennie

    Sometimes I think the Psalms are like Shakespeare – you either love 'em or not! I always have to keep in mind context when praying the Psalms. And, really, it's like reading poetry … some people 'get it' easier than others, and their meaning isn't always transparent. Lots of prayer and contemplation needed.

    Why are they important now? Hmm. My take is this: the first Christians were Jews and worshipped as Jews, and the Church is built on Sacred Tradition with Sacred Scripture & the Magisterium (the Deposit of Faith). So, Sacred Tradition began with the first Jewish-Christians, with St. Peter as pope, and continued as the Church grew, including the use of Psalms in worship.

    This from Dennis Bratcher is interesting in light of understanding where they come from: http://www.cresourcei.org/psalmsintro.html

    As an imperfect people, their prayers (psalms) would be imperfect, too (e.g. the psalmist asking God to smite his enemies in Psalm 69), but as stated above, they are honest in their worship and in laying bare their lives before God. Don't know that it helps pray them any better, but maybe puts a different perspective on how to read/understand them?

    Best of luck and blessings,
    Jennie

  27. SuburbanCorrespondent

    They need to be put to good music – then they are beautiful.

  28. autumnesf

    We know that a lot of the Biblical history was passed down verbally for years. I think the Psalms is a big part of that. Its like prayers, poems and songs to God that also remind us of the history. I did a Beth Moore study once on the Psalms and it was real good on showing you how they related to our relationship with God then and now. I can't remember the study name but it should be easy to figure out if you are interested.

  29. Jessica

    I love the Psalms.

    I'm pretty sure I don't entirely understand them.

    But, a couple things:
    -Patrick Henry Reardon's "Christ in the Psalms" is very helpful.
    -On that note, I agree with the people who suggested thinking of Jesus praying them. Some of the things that are said in them can only be properly said, I think, by a king of Israel or the Messiah. There's a real prophetic part to some of them.
    -I agree with seeing the "enemies" of the Psalms as demons, at least in some cases.
    -Lastly, when you have time, I think it's helpful to read the Psalms through chronologically, alongside the accounts of David's life in the Bible. Seeing what he went through when he wrote them helped me put them in context.

  30. Gannet Girl

    Waler Brueggemann's Praying the Psalms might be a huge help to you — as might anything by Brueggemann on the OT.

    From one of your interested Protestant readers ….

  31. Catherine

    NC Sue, in Psalm 139 it's the psalmist, not God, calling down condemnation on the people he thinks are wicked!

  32. Square Peg

    I've found that the more time I spend in them the more I've come to love them, tho I can't always explain in a cognitive sense.
    I started a weekly Lectio Divina group (praying thru Scripture) 9 mnths ago and we have been working thru the Psalms. I never felt I "got" poetry at all, but taking each one very slowly with a group, hearing what they were getting out it and reflecting & praying together has helped me more than study or exegesis.
    Tho I'm going to check out some of those books others recommended as I now find myself wanting to know more.

  33. Adoro

    I don't even know if it's worth my comment at this point, but here it is anyway:

    Realize first of all that you're not praying in your own words. You're praying in the words of the CHURCH. Although you may not identify with something, someone you are praying WITH may be experiencing that thing. Whether it's misery or joy or what have you.

    Realize also that there are some psalms that are not included in the LOH or in the Mass readings for they are expressions for private prayer only. So even if they seem to contradict the teachings of Christ, they ARE a way to pray and express maybe some of the deepest things we face in our fallen condition.

    When you pray LOH, when you pray the psalms, you are praying in a way, in the person of Christ, in His words, for it is the Word of God. So take yourself out of it and don't let it concern you if you don't "get" it. The effort just to pray is something very dear to God.

    This post from A Minor Friar may help you:

    http://friarminor.blogspot.com/2009/06/christian-prayer.html

    He links to a post I'd recently written. Skip my post, it's useless to you. But if you click on it, scroll down to the comments section and read some of the profound words of the commenters.

    That's really all I have to offer at this point. I hope it's useful to someone.

  34. Anonymous

    Jen:

    The Psalms were written to be songs. Hearing them sung makes all the difference in the world to me. If you can find recordings of them interpreted musically, it may do the same for you. I truly believe that when you sing, you pray twice 🙂

    Jen G

  35. a newly consecrated virgin

    Hi—I only recently found your blog, but I really enjoy it!

    I’ve been praying the Liturgy of the Hours since 2003, and speaking from personal experience I think the answer to your problem may be just to stick with it and give it some time. Often, a particular psalm (or a particular verse from a psalm) only starts to have personal significance after you’ve been praying it for a number of months, or even years. Even though this might sound like one of the more frustrating facets of the Divine Office, I think it’s one of the aspects I appreciate most—because I know the Breviary is a source of spiritual nourishment that I’ll never be able to exhaust.

    I hope I’m making sense here, but I think the best way to pray the psalms is to do so with more “listening” than “thinking.” Often a word or phrase will strike you in an unexpected or surprisingly meaningful way. Then when you return to a psalm, you bring your old insights with you while you continue to receive new ones. (Sometimes, too, certain psalms become your “favorites,” and you can look forward to them.)

    But all that being said, it’s also helpful to think of praying the psalms in the Divine Office primarily as something you offer up to God; as opposed to being mainly a source of personal enlightenment or consolation. So even when you feel “dry” or as though you’re getting nowhere, you can be happy in the knowledge that you’re still making a true “sacrifice of praise” in communion with the rest of the universal Church.

    This is the best I can do—I hope it helps!

  36. Anonymous

    Hi Jen, I have to say for me they didn't resonate Until….I went through a prolonged period of suffering. Now I read them and hear them and it's as if the Holy Spirit is speaking directly to me and telling me specifically what I need to know. Usually it's one line that pops out at me and stays with me all day. For instance, "commit your life to the Lord, trust in Him and he will act." That has become something of a mantra for me at this time when I'm lost and don't know what to do. I read them and I see hear and feel how much God loves us and takes care of us. Just a thought!

  37. Lynn

    Dear Jennifer,

    As a Catholic Benedictine nun – psalms are a huge part of my prayer life.

    I think another of your commenters already noted this fact – we pray the psalms because they were the prayer of Jesus. Also, they tell us of Him. St. Augustine wrote several volumes of exposition on the Psalms – I think you would find them helpful. C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms is also good.

    It is interesting to note that the psalms are defined as songs of praise… now add to that the fact that more than half the book is categorized as psalms of lament. Where is the praise? As was explained to me – the psalmist's trust in God is evidenced because even though he was lamenting the state of his life – he was still turning to God. That is a act of worship and honor because when all things seem hopeless the psalmist still had faith that God would hear and act.

    God wants us to know the riches of His Word – pray for the grace to understand the wisdom of the Psalms – it is a prayer God will always say yes to because you know it is His will 🙂 I will pray that for you as well.

    Blessings,
    Sister Lynn

  38. november

    To Anon @ 820:

    Exactly! Although my former non-denominational church sang praise songs all the time based on the psalms (and they resonated strongly with me then), it was only through my more recent experience of pretty intense suffering that I have been led more deeply into the psalms. They're powerful and I have grown to cherish them to the utmost, so much so that I think the most marked-up book of my personal bible is indeed the psalms. And, like you said, it's as though the Holy Spirit speaks directly to me and the specific situation/emotional/spiritual state I'm in THAT DAY when he leads me to a particular psalm. Even the Church's responsorial psalm (in which I now anticipate and participate most actively now) are like treasure troves of goodness, guidance and strength. Definitely, WOW! And, also like you said, meditating on a verse or two from whatever psalm the Spirit led me to does wonders at allaying my anxious fears.

    Now I am dumbfounded as to how I never discovered this rich, rich treasure before.

    I know one doesn't necessarily have to experience suffering to better appreciate the psalms, but, I can wholeheartedly say that if nothing else I have discovered during this time of tribulation the richness and fullness of comfort, peace, strength and truth that can be found in the psalms. For that I praise God.

    With my most recent experience of the psalms along with what others are saying about the liturgy of the hours, this newbie (me) will definitely take a serious look at what she's missing in not utilizing those prayers.

  39. november

    ^ 'my apologies, but that should've read to Anon @ 8:32.

  40. trent

    I read once that we should read 'our enemies' as Satan and evil spirits.

  41. April

    Jen…

    A book called God's Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms just came out a little while ago. I heard the author on the radio and it is on my list of to-reads. He is not Catholic so would not address how the Psalms fit into the Divine Hours, but I understand from friends who have read it that the book is very Biblical. And also practical.

    I'd like to know your further thoughts as you explore! Please keep undating!

  42. Chris

    St. Paul provides some good context on the "adversary" Psalms, I think, when he writes in Ephesians chapter 6: "Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (NAB Ephesians 6:11-12). In Hebrew (and Arabic, too, I believe) the word, Satan, means adversary. In the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon for people to speak of evil and of the devil by simply saying, "our Adversary." St. Paul's words highlight the fact that smiting enemies really means smiting evil and unclean spirits. Jesus did this Himself.

    However, taking this step is too much of an initial leap. If you read Mark Shea's Making Senses out of Scripture, you will learn about the four senses through which we understand scripture. The first is the literal sense. We cannot escape it. To state that David is really talking about evil spirits and only evil spirits when he prays that God smite his enemies, is to misunderstand the hostile world in which the ancient Israelites lived. We live in the modern United States, whose military power is such that we can at least retaliate to any who attack us. This military strength came about as a consequence of an existential threat. The build-up of the U.S. military to today’s levels can find its history in World War II, when we really did face an enemy that would annihilate us if they could. You lose context if you miss this point. In ancient Israel, there were lots of enemies capable of destroying entire towns, entire families. And people knew it because it happened periodically. Put youself in their shoes. If the enemy is smitten, then he cannot kill your family. Thus, the immediate metaphorical understanding is a prayer to save your family from death.

    Also in David’s time, poverty meant you did not have enough to eat today. Nor did your family. There was nothing for tomorrow, either. Do not forget the actions of the widow who gave Elijah the last of her oil. When she did this, there was absolutely nothing left for her or her family. The lamentation Psalms are couched in this periodic reality of the ancient world – a reality that could be accelerated if enemies rose up unsmitten.

    Literal understanding of the Psalms needs to start with the reality of danger – and the human need to respond to it. Even the martyrs’ response to physical violence was one of metaphorical smiting of enemies – or at least of the capacity of enemies to continue violence. Ignatius of Antioch offered himself to the Roman authorities because the persecution had gotten so bad. One of his goals was to offer himself as Christian leader in the hopes that his flock might be spared. Justin Martyr argued with the other philosophers in the hopes of convincing some of the validity of his Christian claims. Despite all this, it was not safe to be Christian in Rome until Constantine put down the persecutors with military might. Many Christians were no doubt troubled by such violence, but many fought not so much to smite their enemies but to provide a better future for their children. And when the Christians could come out of hiding, all rejoiced.

    This is simply human. None of us wishes to die. But when enemies and hunger and poverty abound, there is a literal need to do something about it – even if it is only to cry out to God in lamentation. Moreover, the Psalms do not order. They request. And the context is such that the psalmist understands that his request might be denied. Several of the Psalms recognize this by explicitly pointing out human frailty – which can, of course, include folly that sounds like wisdom.

    Once this literal understanding is grounded, St. Paul’s words can begin to make sense. The enemies who threat physical violence are themselves in the thrall of evil. To rejoice that they are smitten is primarily, then, to rejoice at the entrance of God into a place where He was previously rejected.

  43. Shannon

    So many of the psalms are in our hymnals! You'll be amazed by the number you already know. Meditate on the songs as one way to understand and pray with the psalms.

    I have a batch of different translations of the psalms. Sometimes the change in language or nuance brings me to a deeper appreciation of the mystery we're sharing.

  44. TL.

    Ok I'll comment on that 🙂

    I discovered the psalms through the liturgy of the Hours too.
    I started praying it with a group of friends. I just followed along.

    One day I asked a priest why some where SO violent (Psalm 57 is entirely imprecatory I think and talks about washing your feet in streams of blood from the enemy…) His answer was to simply consider : who is the enemy?
    What is YOUR sin? He said if you understood what sin is really, you would hate it this much.

    Since then I grew up in faith a little. I love the psalms more and more. I think whoever wrote it is a daring dude. *I* couldn't even come close to address God with those words. He gets very upset, despaired. Thanks to the psalms I understood that ALL feelings are OK.
    It's OK to be going through tough times and ask God " why, why did you forsake me?" go through the psalm, it's like a mini journey to HOPE and faith. 🙂

    I love the liturgy of Hours because wherever I am, I'm not alone, I'm part of the Church.
    I posted about it a while ago on my blog
    http://amphibianfroggie.blogspot.com/2008/12/if-i-could-keep-only-one-most-religious.html

    Also I believe the Catholic Church is really rich in approaches to prayer. If the psalms are not "talking" to you now, don't worry about it. Know they exist, and maybe some day you'll feel the need to read them. If what you're looking for is some structured prayer to follow you can use a devotional, the readings of the day (something like reading of the gospel+intercession+ our father in the morning and other reading of the mass at night along with some pages of a spiritual book) well just suggesting…

  45. Karen

    One thing that has helped me see the Psalms in a different light is reading the Bible chronologically. (actually, it's helped me to "get" the entire Bible easier.) As an example, when you read about David hiding from Saul in Samuel and then you read the Psalm that expresses his emotion at the time it makes the picture a little clearer. (unlike my response to your question!) Anyway, you might want to check it out. It's made me fall in love with the Psalms. (and it only took 30 some odd years.)

    blessings,
    karen

  46. Lauren

    I use the Psalms to identify God's character and praise Him. I'll choose one a day and go through it, underlining words that identify who God is. Psalm 18:31-32- I praise you because you are God, you are my rock, you gird me with strength and provide for me. I praise you for being my shelter and keeping me safe. (Just an example!)

  47. brian

    Maybe the reason you are confused is that you arent supposed to pray the psalms. Maybe you should speak to God about what is on your heart at that moment, instead of following a ritual.

  48. Anonymous

    I find much more resonance when I compare a persecuted Israel to the modern (seriously) oppressed.

    Calling out for God to cut down your enemies makes much more sense for me when I think about someone reading the Psalm in a third world country, while a militia is burning villages and raping and killing indiscriminately. Yes, redeeming them would be eternally better for THEM, but striking them with a lightning bolt before they do any more harm would be entirely just and righteous.

    Sometimes I also think of my 'enemies' as my temptations. It's a metaphorical read, but the nearest I can do (blessedly) in a peaceful country.

  49. Anonymous

    First, I got my issue of This Rock today, and I was glad to read your article in it. I smiled when I realized the cover story was about St Catherine of Siena (and having read about your connection with her).

    Sometimes the Psalms do seem opaque to me. But, I have to say that I love the ones that are shaking their fist at God. Sometimes I'm just angry at God (ungrateful sinner that I am), and it's comforting to know that holier men than me have felt the same way. It helps me to move past my faithlessness.

    Jonathan

  50. Mandi

    Along with some of your other commenters, I would recomend C.S. Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms. It has whole chapters on the curses and judgments in the psalms. I greatly enjoyed reading it.

  51. James Tomasino

    I'm in the same boat as you, Jennifer. I've been struggling to read the Liturgy of the Hours more and more, but unless I use all my willpower and focus, I tend to space-out through the psalms a lot.

    I've been on a few retreats where the speakers have been able to pull out the perfect quote from the perfect psalm to hit home on a really emotional point about scripture or our relationship with God, but beyond these little moments, the vast majority of my psalm time seems spent in repetitious pronouncement of either God's greatness (nothing wrong with that), or in whining to him about the psalmist's awful station in life.

    Maybe with the proper historical context it would be better, or maybe as a song. Sometimes I wish I had a Jesuit to sit next to me while I read them so he can walk me through each one in turn. Know any bored Jesuits?

  52. Lil Red

    The Psalms by Msgr Luigi Guissani

  53. Bad Bill's Mother-in-Law

    I find it easiest to pray the psalms if I think of the evil and enemies spoken of as personal things–like my own pride or envy or whatever. I would like God to help me "smite" and destroy these aspects of myself. Does this help?

  54. Jaibee

    I love your blog, because I can feel good about not posting so much on my own! We have the same name, same hypercoagulability, both former atheist, both converted Easter 2007…. 🙂

    But!

    I happen to love the Psalms. I love reading them in the Liturgy of the Hours. I "got" that they contained every human emotion.

    But then, during my Intro to Sacred Scripture class at Seminary, my professor shared something that made me appreciate them all the more.

    Scripture is divinely inspired, right? So, as David or whoever is praying the Psalms, what is really going on is God is teaching you the proper way to pray to Him, and gives examples for every emotion you could possibly experience.

    So, as you pray the Psalms, you are praying in the mind of Christ.

    Wow. I loved that! 🙂

    Hope it helps! 🙂

  55. Alyson

    Hi there Jen,
    That the Psalms are Liturgical should always be remembered. They formed part of the Old Testament form of worship. They enhance, extend and uphold the worship in the Christian faith today.
    Reading them separately from the structure of the Mass or any other guidline, will result in a'failure' to see the Light.
    I most certainly do not feel moved, inspired or led to prayer every time the Psalm is read during the Mass, but more often than not, the rest of the Liturgy is illuminated by the beauty and depth of the Psalm that accompanies the Old and New Testament readings.(It adds to our understanding of the readings)
    Let us remember the person/s who put our Missal's together soooo long ago. They did it with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in order to structure, teach and impart the knowledge and love of Our Lord.

  56. Diane

    Can an evangelical dip a toe in here? One of the main keys to understanding (and being able to effectively pray) Scripture is understanding the context. The psalms were written over many years, by different people in different circumstances.

    Backtothebible.org has an excellent chronological reading plan for the bible (under Bible studies and devotionals – look for reading plans, chronological). In Mid-May, the reading plan starts interspersing the pslams in the historical events in the OT during which they were written, or the events of which they speak occurred.

    Knowing the "backstory", so to speak, makes a huge difference in understanding, and therefore in prayer. A good study Bible (I love the ESV) can give even more insight.

    God has a sense of humor – my verification word is "worsh" – let's just add the ip and all worship together!

  57. Jackie

    I like to study the prophetic side of the Psalms — particularly as they pertain to Christ. There are so many!

  58. Sandy

    I tend to skip around a lot and pick and choose the Psalms that pertain to what I'm feeling at the moment. Different Psalms have spoken to me at different points of my life and certain phrases speak to me all the time. To me, the Psalms are better for meditation than for reading. I try to take just a couple of verses or at most 1 Psalm and really meditate on it, rather than trying to read through the Psalms as a book. Don't worry if you don't "get it" at first. They grow on you over time.

  59. Anonymous

    I totally hear ya on this one, but what helped me tremendously was to read the Bible, start to finish, using a bible that was broken down for each day of the year. Each daily reading included, in chronological order, a reading from the OT, the Psalms, & the NT. Since I started that, I also realized that the responsorial psalms at Mass made much more sense to me. And it's so wonderful to hear them actually "sung" every week at Mass.

    I also learned (& am continuing to learn DAILY!) that praying the psalms is really a great way to give Thanks & Praise to God.

    Love your blog by the way…I stumbled upon it from a link & as a Catholic who has recently "come back to the church", I just love reading from your viewpoint!

    Pat

  60. Anonymous

    I have always seen the Psalms as prayers themselves. It's like David wrote down his coversations with God. We see amazing examples of praise to God, we see David struggling with grief, we see him angry at God, we see him find peace.
    Through difficult years in my teens dealing with depression, reading the psalms and praying them myself was sometimes the only way I could talk to God.
    When I lost my first 2 babies to Misscarriage the bible fell open to Psalm 13 and I read it and cried.
    I think that the psalms are amazing in the way that they enculture an awe of God and the things he has made.
    Psalms are also some of the easiest passages of the Bible to commit to memory since they are in verse format. I have always loved the psalms, they are usually the first place in my Bible I turn to.
    They illustrate that God is God enough to hear us when we are hurting, hear us when we are angry, and hear us when we praise him. Its ok for Humans to have emotions, God created us that way!!

    Melissa

  61. brian

    I have a hard time understanding anyone who doesnt love the Psalms. They are so rich in passion and emotion. David spoke from his heart about whatever was going with him at that moment. The Psalms are quoted by Jesus and others in the New Test. more than any other OT book. And there are so many promises and memorable verses in the Psalms! I could go on and on…

  62. The Burgess family

    I think "Curryba" said some really good things. ditto.

  63. helenw13

    I am not sure I have ever left a comment here before…so I may be of that dreaded categories of lurkers…first…you are so blessed to get so many comments…so cool.
    I would say that there are seasons…how I know that is such an overused word in the Christian vocabulary but I think it fits here. I have always liked the psalms but I now LOVE the psalms…this has been a portion of time for me that has been extremely filled with hardship and the psalms have become my prayers…my very breath…yes, there are portions that I am at times a bit unsure about but I am so glad that we get to see true authenticity in the life of those who walked with God…we aren't always pretty and neither are they…
    I use a daily office called Venite by Robert Benson and I must say that there are days when I just slowly say out loud many times sections that are from the psalms it bathes my soul in such peace and relief.
    Don't force it…but I would wager there will come a time when they will become like old trusted friends to you.

    May God bless you in your pursuit of Him and His Word.

  64. MamasBoy

    John Paul II had begun a weekly commentary during his general audience on the psalms and canticles in the Liturgy of the Hours, which Pope Benedict finished. Here is a link to a document which links to each of them. They can be found in several places (zenit, vatican website, etc.).

    This document links to sources
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/14034404/Papal-Commentary-on-the-Morining-and-Evening-Psalms#page=3

    I think there are books which compile all of them as well.

    Personally, I like the psalms because they seem so human. People question God and ask why things happen they way they do. They tell Him that it seems life isn't fair, etc. and they acknowledge how sinful they are. It is something I can identify with in that sense.

    MB

  65. Julie

    http://www.aholyexperience.com

    Ann writes today about journaling and it struck me that this might be a good way to read the Psalms. Write down the one line that speaks to your heart, then begin to journal as a discipline of personal prayer.

    warning, I always read this blog at the end of the day after all the other internet reading is over, the reason for this – I usually begin to weep.

  66. Anonymous

    I highly recommend C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis makes so much sense of the poetic language and Hebraic style found in the Psalms. You will enjoy this book. As a fairly recent convert who has been praying the Liturgy of the Hours for about two and a half years, it was of great help to me.

    Tom Cabeen

  67. elizabethe

    I haven't read all the comments so forgive if this is repetitive.

    As a former atheist, my first introduction as an adult (I was raised Christian but fell away during highschool/college, am now Catholic) was through the psalms, because I have been lucky enough to sing in a really wonderful set of college choirs. The director, though not religious as far as I knew, recognized that so much great choral music was religious, so we sang masses and some wonderful settings of psalms, especially some by 20th century composers.

    To sing or hear one psalm (although, it wasn't to me, as I was an Athiest) like the 23rd set to different compositions is a wonderful way to hear or understand what different people get out of them (and listening is something you can do while watching little children, btw!)

    You can do a search on this site:
    http://www.classicalarchives.com

    for a particular psalm or a particular composer and psalms.

    Just one I was moved by Rutter's setting of Psalm 23 in his Requiem.
    ciao

  68. Harmony

    I value the Psalms because of their honesty. I value David's security. David KNEW to whom he belonged.

    I value that David's Psalms, even the angry ones (especially the angry ones) nearly always end in praise. David seems to have emptied himself of his true thoughts, his rough emotions, his rumpled heart- and is refilled with grace, peace and praise. I think David trusted that God would humble him and set his mind aright, and so he said it like it was. There was no room for religious pretense and a mere form of godliness– he was what he was before God, and God was who God is before him.

    I value this because it encourages me to be equally honest.

  69. Timothy Fish

    I don’t suppose everyone has to be as moved by the Psalms as some people are. Personally, I have a hard time picking one part of the Bible and saying that is my favorite. I love it all. Right now our church is studying the letters Timothy and Titus, which tell us how we should behave in church—loving it. I love Nehemiah, that great book on leadership. I wrote a book based on Hosea, which shows God’s love for Israel. I even love I Chronicles, with all those begats.

    I read a passage like Psalm 69 and I can’t help but think, That’s me! I’ve been there. I’ve been in those situations where I have tried to treat people well and they have turned against me. I have gone to them and tried to work things out. After giving me assurances that they would work with me, they waited until my back was turned and did me hurt. In those situations, we reach a point, as the psalmist did, that we throw up our hands and say, There’s nothing more I can do and still they hurt me. They hurt us hoping to gain something. Perhaps they gossip to our boss, hoping that they will get the promotion rather than it going to us. If we prayed like the psalmist, we would say, Lord, if he gets that promotion, use it against him, rather than for his benefit.

    Is that wrong? No. Consider Romans 12:19. It is not our place to take vengeance on our enemies, that is true, but this verse is also a promise from the Lord, “I will repay.” We may wonder about his timing sometimes and be like those in Revelation 6:10 that cry out and ask, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Yet, the promise is sure. God will avenge. As long as we are not seeking to take vengeance into our own hands, there is nothing wrong with asking God to speed justice up a little.

  70. curtissann

    I smile at your post. Somewhere along the way I have quit worrying about what I don't understand and simply let God speak to me. I take what I do understand, work it in my life, leaving more understanding to come when it does.

  71. Christine

    In a church Lent devotional/journal, I read this and it was eye-opening for me in terms of the Psalms:

    "Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. The Psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God, but to train us in responding to him." (Eugene Peterson, Answering God)

    The study overall helped me see the Psalms as both positive and negative emotion lifted to God (sometimes seemingly thrown at God, in more naked and vulnerable times). I have always loved the psalms, but now I feel I understand their rawness, whether praise or anger or despondency, and they have helped me through some rough times as well as given voice to my gratitude.

  72. Anonymous

    A priest once told me that the psalms are the literal prayer of Jesus Christ. They were written by king David, but they reflect the sentiment of the Sacred Heart of Jesus through divine inspiration. It's probably easiest to see this in Psalm 22 (which is 21 in the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims), a really haunting reflection of our Lord toward his Passion. Whenever I read the psalms, I imagine Jesus praying them at one of the many times He retreated from the world to be alone with the Father, in the mountains, in the desert, etc.

    Also, about things that seem not to line up with Christian teaching… the way I see it is that, they were not necessarily metaphors for the psalmist, but they are for us. So when the psalms talk about Jerusalem, they are talking explicitly about the Church. And when they talk about "enemies", it's the world, the devil's temptations, etc.

    You really should read the psalms from the Douay-Rheims Bible with Bishop Challoner's notes. His notes show exactly how the psalms line up with Catholicism; they're very helpful. If you don't have a copy, you can read it online at newadvent.com

  73. Anonymous

    I just want to second Jessica's comment and say that Patrick Henry Reardon's book, Christ in the Psalms, is a wonderful resource. Absolutely wonderful. It is the main I resource I use when reading the Psalms, and it will really show you Christ reflected in the Psalms.

  74. Carrien

    I will probably echo someone as I haven't enough time to read the comments.

    The bits that don't make sense to us don't make sense because, largely, we haven't yet experienced these depths of suffering or attack.

    Consider, as you read Psalm 69 for example, the Christians on the Thai Burmese border at this moment, listening to the gunfire as the Burmese army continues to fire against their loved ones on the other side, and round up their children to use as mine sweepers. (I just finished reading an update from a friend there.)

    You and I, thanks be to God, have never experienced this. You and I have never needed to turn to God with our desire for vengeance, justice, and protection to this extent. You and I as woman have never said, "God is my Shepherd. He is with me even when the border guards 'kiss and oppress me' every time I cross to see my family." (true story)

    That the Psalmist turns to God and says, "Pour out your anger on them, let your burning anger overtake them, let none dwell in their tents," is an indication of the Psalmist's trust in God for justice. To cry out to God to rescue, to stop and bring judgment against your enemies. To ask, "How long will this continue, how long will you allow your enemies to treat me like this?" These are Christian responses. These are the responses of a people who trust in God, who believe He will bring all things right in the end.

    If it doesn't make sense for you personally, put it in the context the suffering in the rest of the world and it will. When you don't know what to pray in regards to children dying of starvation, Christians living in concentration camps in China, the Burmese army killing and raping the Karen and other hill tribes, the Psalms give you words.

    (Also Psalm 69 has prophetic elements pointing to Christ that are very interesting, but that's another very long comment by itself.)

  75. Sophy Nextdoor

    I love the book of Psalms! I think it helps to read an entire Psalm or two at first, not just bits and pieces of them from a devotional book or prayer routine. I love the way Psalms blends prayer and praise and honesty…the way the authors yell at God and praise God all in the same chapter. This tells me I can be completely honest and open with God too. I also love the poetic expression–telling me that along with being honest with God, I should also take my time sometimes and make my prayer thoughtful and beautiful.

    The verses about smiting enemies are only a very very small part of the book, and remember that David (who wrote many of the Psalms) was a warrior as well as a king and poet. My situation in life is quite different from his, so those verses aren't relevant to me, but so many of the others are. Don't let one detail of the book keep you from enjoying the rest.

  76. Joseph Alcruz

    First of all, THANK YOU Jennifer for all your thoughtful posts. Though this is the first time I have ventured to comment, I have been following your blog daily for more than a year.

    I too would recommend C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms.

    Personally, I have been reciting them daily in the LOH for about 3 years now, and I have come to appreciate their brutal honesty of emotion — ranging from the tenderness of Psalm 131 to the undisguised violent sentiments elsewhere. They all remind me that the first step in purifying my heart often consists in the honest expression of toxic emotions that are in me. When the Holy Spirit guides me into prayer, He allows me a safe space to be truly myself and to be loved in all my awfulness. With time, He leads me to deeper self-awareness of how much I truly need Him.

    Once again, Jennifer, thank you for sharing your journey with all of us.

    Praying with you in NY,
    Joseph Alcruz

  77. Lucy

    Personally, the Psalms have come to mean much more to me as I've encountered them in the context of Liturgy. But of course, the only reason I know they're there is that I've read most of them so many times in years past.

    A couple of books I'd recommend you look into: Christ in the Psalms by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon. I have not read it, but I am familiar with Fr. Patrick's writings, particularly in Touchstone magazine (which if you're not reading, you totally should be – you'd love it!).

    The other books you might be interested in are the commentaries on the Psalms by St. John Chrysostom, the 4th century theologian who wrote the Liturgy we Orthodox still use today. There's a book called Spiritual Gems From the Book of Psalms that has the more popluar commentaries by Chrysostom. You can get all these books from Light and Life Publishing.

  78. Anonymous

    Jen, I love it that you used a clip art of one of my favorite Psalms — Psalm 27.

    When I explain the violent expressions in the psalms, I tell the rcia folks to keep it in context. If the psalm is attributed to David (many of the psalms were composed during and after the Babylonian exile and reflect that p.o.v.) – then remember the nature of David. He can only write what he is. He is shepherd, musician, adulterer, warrior — and expresses himself with the power language of one who is all those things. That's why I love the honesty of the psalms. Sometimes, we ARE in the midst of prayer and yet we find a vengeful thought in our heads.

    Stefanie

  79. Rebecca

    Hi Jennifer, I see you've had lots of comments already, but I'll say a prayer that if what I have to share will help you, it will stand out amongst the others :).

    I recently began working with the Life Application Study Bible NIV (no, it's not a Catholic Bible, but I really like it's format, structure, and information) AND the Psalms section is GREAT! It directs you to certain psalms based on what is going on in your life, it also breaks down the psalms.

    As a cradle catholic who has recently only begun to really learn about my religion and faith, I've found this format to be so so helpful!

  80. Melanie B

    I'm back with another book suggestion and a few more thoughts.

    Talking with my dad today and he reminded me of a great book that I'd forgotten: Singing in the Reign by Michael Barber.

    Also, this comment got me thinking more about the Liturgy of the Hours and the Psalms: Brian said, "Maybe the reason you are confused is that you arent supposed to pray the psalms. Maybe you should speak to God about what is on your heart at that moment, instead of following a ritual."

    Several other commenters have replied along similar lines that maybe you should just do something else if you are finding the Psalms to difficult. That seems to me like saying you should give up training for a marathon because you're having a hard time. The goal of the Liturgy of the Hours is long term, not short term so of course it is going to be hard going at times. Perseverance is important.

    Moreover Brian presents a false dichotomy: praying to God from your heart vs praying a ritual. It isn't an either-or proposition. In fact the ritual of the Liturgy is one of he best ways of approaching God about what is in your heart at the moment. Part of praying the Psalms is bringing to God what is in our hearts and then allowing Him to respond to our needs in the words of Scripture. The Holy Spirit who inspired the psalmists is present when we read, speak or sing the psalms and He both intercedes for us and speaks to us in these inspired words.

    Moreover there is built into the Liturgy a space especially for bringing up those individual concerns that we have in the intercessions near the end. Here we address our specific petitions to God, asking for his aid.

    It is also good to keep in mind that our primary purpose in prayer should always be praise of God. Everything else, listening to Scripture, intercession, petition is within the context of praise. Praise comes first and permeates the whole. The great benefit of praying the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours is that the very structure of the ritual reminds us to make praise come first. When we ditch the ritual and only focus on our own concerns, it can be easy to lose sight of praise, to make ourselves the primary object of our prayers instead of praising God's name. The Church in her wisdom recognizes that tendency in us for spontaneous prayer to become self-absorbed and gives us rituals to help guide us in prayer, to teach us how to pray as we ought. Or as Romans 8:26 says: We do not know how to pray as we ought but the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. The Psalms, inspired by the Spirit, are the perfect means of allowing Him to speak for us and to teach us how to pray as we ought.

    Thus ritual does not force us to abandon our own concerns and to neglect to speak of what is in our heart but to place them properly in context.

  81. Sophy Nextdoor

    One of the most beautiful things about Psalms is that they show us every human emotion—expressed as prayer. They give us permision to express every single emotion in our own prayers. Not every emotion is beautiful and holy and perfect–take it to God anyway. He wants to hear your heart's cry.

  82. Sharon

    What a great post and replies. Just skimming them I have already learned alot more about the psalms which I have been praying in the LOTH for about 4 years.

    I second the recommendation for Christ in the Psalms by Patrick Henry Reardon.

    Someone mentioned Pope John Pauls's reflections on psalms from LOTH. The reflections, completed by Benedict XVI, are indeed available in book form.

    Psalms and Canticles – Meditations and Catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles of Morning Prayer by John Paul II and

    Psalms and Canticles – Mediations and Catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles of Evening Prayer by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

    My copies are published by the Catholic Truth Society London.

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