Praying with the Psalms

The Psalms of David and Solomon and others have been the prayers of the Church for 2,000 years.  In the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to read the Psalms as prayers as well, to varying degrees of success.  Most of my Bibles have the morning and evening prayers from the Book of Common Prayer Psalter indicated in the Psalms.

As I pray, I sometimes substitute my own problems and stresses for those of the Psalmists.  This isn’t entirely crazy–as I say, the Church has made those Psalms its own prayers since the beginning.  On the other hand, I often find myself feeling a bit whiny, crying out to God through a Psalm about the stresses of life–this paper that’s due, that job that’s getting busy, etc.–as if they are the same thing as David’s enemies surrounding him on all sides and the other oppressions and persecutions against the Psalmists.

It feels particularly lame when I consider that there are plenty of people in this world who face real persecution and oppression and attacks from all sides on a daily basis.  People who would see peaceful deadlines and a steady paycheque as an answer to these prayers.

I wonder if when the Psalmists spoke of oppression and troubles he sometimes meant something more mundane or innocuous or every-day, like a nagging concubine, or an poorly chosen palace cook, or maybe a deadline of some kind.

Maybe over the years our image of the Psalmists has become more heroic than they really were.  I know David did face a lot of hardship and some of his Psalms correspond to those events.  But surely they were still human with daily human problems–did those make their way into the Psalms?  We all know those dramatic types who, by their descriptions of their everyday, really do sound like they are oppressed.  Maybe some of the Psalmists were dramatic in this way, too?

Somehow I doubt it.  I imagine I entertain those thoughts in order to justify my own minor problems.

But how else can we make these sometimes agonizing, desperate, pleading Psalms our own?

2 thoughts on “Praying with the Psalms

  1. Linea

    I don’t think I would worry too much about my laments not being big enough or of life threatening significance. I am quite confident that God hears our mundane stuff as readily as our critically important stuff. After all you don’t only listen to your children when they are yelling that the house is on fire. You listen to them tell you about school and the crafts they have made and just stuff they think of. I’m glad God is like that too. It takes the pressure of me to pre-judge the importance of my life events and I can bring it all to him.

  2. Toni

    I think that our perspective on life is often very flexible – it will shrink happily so that the smallest issue can appear to fill our world, and also stretch so that the largest issue does not tear our reality.

    I wouldn’t necessarily owrry to much about them fitting our experience: they were written for a wide range of human experience, and some of those things are highly unlikely to be applicable to us (we won’t be beseiged in our cities or have kings threatening to kill us). I’d suggest taking hold where they fit the crcumstances and offering gratitude where we’re protected and our experience does not parallel that of the psalmist.

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