Kindle the fire of faith with Psalms
By Maureen Briare, Guest Commentary
"Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10)
Does "Be still and know that I am God" seem overwhelming to you in a day when you hardly have a moment to yourself? Do you need a "spiritual boost" as we enter the third week of the Lenten Season? Consider immersing yourself a bit in the Book of Psalms...the poetic, holy and beautiful songs of the Bible. As a liturgical musician, singing the psalms has been a huge part of the sacred music that I plan on a weekly basis...and over the years, praying this artistic prose through song has been a source of immense spiritual comfort and delight.
"To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul" (Psalm 25:1)
I think what draws me most to the psalms is the way they passionately express human emotion, and some of the natural and deepest desires of our hearts. The psalms were composed (a majority by King David) in ancient times as songs for communal worship, and through the ages our desires really have remained unchanged.....our desire to complain, and lament: "How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?" (Psalm 13:1)...our desire for relationship: "As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, my God" (psalm 42: 1)).... Making known our petitions "Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea" (psalm 86:6)...our desire to express gratitude: "Sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done marvelous deeds!" (psalm 98:1) ...our desire praise God..."Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord!" (psalm 150:6) The lyrics of the psalms have served as inspiration for countless composers who have given the words melodious song~ and even artists portraying the imagery of them. The very nature of psalms lift our hearts in the desire to commune with Beauty, and that Beauty which is mercy, forgiveness, love, majesty, our innermost longing and worthy to be praised.
"With you, Lord, is the fountain of life" (Psalm 36:9)
Take a moment to imagine that fountain...of grace, of mercy...our true "life source" ...flowing with unabashed abundance to YOU. These Lenten days invite us to remove any hindrances in our personal lives that might obstruct the flow of that fountain. Are our hearts open to receiving this fountain of life? One of the hallmark psalms of the Lenten season is psalm 51: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (v.10) The text is intimately personal, and invites us to look to our inner sanctuary, and make room for the Holy Spirit to abide. The verses continue "Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (v.6-7) What beautiful text to meditate upon as we try to purify our innermost hearts as we walk the journey of Lent.
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm 23)
Psalm 23 is one of the most well-known and beloved psalms of comfort...as the images evoke the serenity that comes from surrendering to a life of faith, following the Good Shepherd. The sacred text truly flows like poetic music "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul." (v.2-3) I have known people to carry a copy of that psalm in their pocket...to immerse themselves in the text as a sort of 'respite' in the day...as a reminder of who is really "in charge".
"You have searched me, Lord, and you know me" (Psalm 139 v. 1)
One of my all-time favorite hymns associated with this text is a poetic adaptation by English composer Bernadette Farrell in her composition "O God, You Search Me". (Published by Oregon Catholic Press)
Here is an excerpt ...that expresses the psalm's assertion that God is truly with us, beyond our understanding.
" O God, you search me, and You know me. All my thoughts lie open to Your gaze. When I walk or lie down You are before me. Ever the maker, and keeper of my days".
I do think that psalms can propel us to the mystical state of awe and wonder... that then can affirm our faith, and help us to express our gratitude for believing.
Ring out your joy to the Lord (Psalm 33:1)
If the one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is "joy" (Galations 5:22), then a truly joyful life may not be feasibly attained by our natural minds...but only in conjunction with the works of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Praying the sacred psalms makes a "gateway", or "highway" for the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts and minds, and subsequently transform our lives." "Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth! (Psalm 104:30) Our Lenten prayer is rooted in our passions to discover the deepest longings in our lives, then then in turn proclaim to God " Here I am, Lord, I come to do Your will" (psalm 40:8) Psalms really are "sung prayer"...and when used as such in your personal prayer life, can "kindle the fire" of your faith! Remember..."This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!" (Psalm 118:24)
Maureen Briare is the Campus Ministry Associate Director for Music. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.