Thursday, February 15, 2007

Praying the Psalms

One of my courses, a Christian Education class called Growing in the Life of Christian Faith, requires each student to covenant to pray a Psalm each week, and to keep a journal to reflect on the experience.

Each night, after I finish my journal entry for the day, I ask Sami to read it. It is my way of sharing my interior life with her. She often asks me, when we finally see each other, "How was your day?" Most of the time I simply can't come up with an answer. So much happens during the course of a day; some things that I would label "good," others that I would label "bad." By the end of the day I've given up trying to apply labels to my experiences, and so I often can't find a coherent narrative lens through which to view the events of my day, much less communicate them to her.

So now I read to her from my prayer journal. It helps give her a glimpse of my interior life, which is what she's really asking about when she inquires of my day.

Anyway, after reading her tonight's entry, she asked if I might consider posting things more like what I write in my prayer journal - she can relate to the content there much more than she can relate to the speculative or argumentative nonsense that fills these virtual pages. So, in the interests of sharing my reflections on a new spiritual journey, and in the hopes that those reflections somehow lead others to a deeper understanding of faith, I'm posting a few things from this week's prayer journal.

This week I - along with the rest of my class - have been praying Psalm 1. While most of the class has been using the New Revised Standard Version, most of the time I've been using the JPS Tanakh translation. It reads:

Happy is the man who has not followed the
counsel of the wicked,
or taken the path of sinners,
or joined the company of the insolent;
rather, the teaching of the LORD is his delight,
and he studies that teaching day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season,
whose foliage never fades,
and whatever it produces thrives.

Not so the wicked;
rather, they are like chaff that wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners, in the assembly of the
For the LORD cherished the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Now here are three entries from this week, including tonight's:

Tues., Feb. 13, 2007

I was most struck by the faith that the Psalm exhibits in God's justice. The Psalm assumes that good befalls the righteous, and evil befalls the wicked. This goes against our general experience of the world, which has us often wondering why the good falter while the evil prosper.

Perhaps this faith in God's justice is rooted in the word "Happy." There is, I suspect, a connection between one's adherence to virtue and one's happiness. I know that I have experienced this, and not just in the form of residual guilt for sins. To do good, to treat others kindly, to forgive those who've wronged you, to let go of the hurts you bottle inside, to act in compassionate and altruistic ways - these all have tangible emotional benefits that we experience these benefits both personally and intersubjectively can help us have faith in God's judgment, because we can experience that judgment in the here and now.

Today I meditated on this understanding of judgment, and how it both impacts my faith in the God who has ordered the universe with at least a degree of justice; and impacts my behavior, as one who, in the words of the Psalm, "survive[s] the judgment" (or at least hopes to) and sits "in the assembly of the righteous."

Wed., Feb. 14, 2007

There is an image in the Psalm that strikes me: the image of the righteous as a tree planted by streams of water. The tree "yields its fruit in season" and "whatever it produces thrives."

Today has been a cold, cold day. It rained earlier this week, and so when the cold front came in there was standing water on the ground. That water froze. Looking out the window I can see pools of frozen water surrounding the trees in the park across the street from my house. Likewise, on the way to pick my son up from preschool I could see trees standing beside frozen ponds.

I wonder if this isn't a good metaphor for my prayer life. My experience of God has frozen over. But perhaps this is just a season; perhaps if the cold doesn't kill me I'll still be able to produce fruit in a later season.

Thurs., Feb. 16, 2007

What struck me today was the phrase:

"... but their delight is in the law of the LORD..." (NRSV)


"... the teaching of the LORD is his delight..." (JPS)

I can relate to someone who studies the Torah day and night ("torah" is the word used here for "law" or "teaching") but I can't always relate to someone who takes delight in such study.

Since I was a teenager I have obsessively studied philosophy and theology. I'm sure that at one point that study came out of a deep relationship with God, a profound experience of the sacred. I'm sure that at one point it was even a great joy to me, something that I delighted in.

But though I once described pondering the mysteries of the sacred as a kind of mystical joy, that joy is no longer a tangible part of my daily experience. Today I study like I breathe: mindlessly, joylessly. I can't live without it, but I never notice it.

Today I ate some exquisite chocolate truffles. Yesterday was Valentine's Day, so Sami surprised me with a variety of dark chocolates from Godiva. I ate them slowly, feeling the rich cream tingle my taste buds. Each morsel was a delight that I nursed slowly, milking each pleasureous moment.

My study of the wisdom of our religious tradition should be like that, but too often it is like eating a thin, flavorless gruel.

I miss delighting in the teaching, the law, the "torah" of the LORD.


crystal said...

It's interesting to see someone else's "prayer life". Sometimes I post about that Ignatian retreat I'm doing ... same sort of thing.

PamBG said...

Interesting thoughts, Chris. Thanks for sharing them.