Several thousand years ago, descendants of Abraham and Sarah began to record and then publicly recite certain prayers. Many of them appear to have been crafted, if not by King David himself, then by priests and musicians writing in his name. We call this treasury of faith “The Psalms.” These prayers were part of how Israel processed the emerging monotheism so distinct to her sense of call and being. What might it mean for there to be, not many gods, each one warring against the others (explaining the chaos of suffering and loss) but only one God who was somehow “over” or “underpinning” all? Along with the Lord’s Prayer they have formed the backbone of Christian prayer from the beginning. We have record of our Lord praying these prayers, not least from the Cross (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Ps. 22:1) and of course almost all of us are familiar with the famous Psalm 23 which gives us such beautiful imagery of God and a life of faith.
We pray these prayers as part of the Liturgy of Holy Eucharist because we are part of the Communion of Saints, joining with them across all past time and across all space in our present time. We join with them in giving voice to our praise, thanksgiving, pain, and lament. Praying the psalms gives us the courage for honesty in our extemporaneous prayers through a recognition that all the emotion of life, even painful, bitter emotions can be voiced to God. Indeed, we are encouraged by these prayers not to bury our anger, our hatred of evil and evil-doers under pious faces, but bring our “rawness” before the face of God whose mercy and fairness we can trust even as we struggle to master our own emotions. Psychologists and Counsellors tell us that we need to be honest with what is troubling us and the psalms help to do that very thing. Even if a particular psalm and its language is off-putting, we can be sure that as we pray it, somewhere there will be someone who is praying this very sentiment in all earnestness.
The psalms sift us, sort us, and guide us towards a God who desires equity and loving justice to permeate the earth. They motivate us not only to pray but to act alongside all those who from goodwill seek to work for the good of creation and all who are oppressed. I would encourage you to use both the Collect of the week, the Lord’s Prayer and the psalm of the week as the foundation of your prayer the following week. If you allow it to sink into you, even the parts of it that are immediately difficult may come to “reinterpret it.” To give an example from this past week: the line that troubled me, “you were a God who forgave them, yet punished them for their evil deeds” is saying, in context of the rest of scripture, that God forgives, yes, but we still experience the consequences of our actions, such is the dignity of the freedom God gives us. This in turn has helped me pray that I, my children, and indeed the world, would turn from evil before the consequences become too severe.