A Softening Through the Psalms

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A Desert Father from the fifth century spoke this truth:

Saying the nature of water is soft and that of stone is hard. But if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop-by-drop, it wears away even the hardest stone. So it is with the word of God. It is soft, and our heart is very hard. But the man who hears the word of God often opens his heart to the fear of the Lord.

-Poeman the Great, Abba Poemen[1]

Whether in a group or by myself, the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) creates a rhythm of prayer that I instill in my daily routine. The first task I do in the morning is pray; everything must wait or I will be easily distracted by emails, messages, and deadlines instead of God at the start of my day. It is a discipline that has not come easy but it is the gift of time I give back to God every day. At first, the Book of Common Prayer felt too rigid for me, too organized – almost robotic. The posture of prayer; kneeling, standing, or sitting, felt like a dance that I had to stumble through for a few weeks until I finally found its rhythm. It was frustrating in the beginning to use a structured prayer book because it felt like it was restricting me. However, in those early times there was one aspect of the BCP that kept me coming back and wanting more of God and that was the Psalms.

The BCP utilizes the Psalms in almost every prayer. As such, this daily reading drew me into a language and a place to meditate on God. It was a place of prayer that when spoken brought light to lament, celebration, praise, history, and thanksgiving. These ancient prayers created a place to feel solidarity with others in the past and those present around the world. The Psalms were on a rotation so there was no choosing only the good ones or the ones I felt like saying that day, but brought me to a place of discomfort because it was at times difficult to hear a psalm of lament while my heart was in such praise, or vice versa. As a result, praying through the Psalms has never been about me or my feelings. Instead, these words softened my heart towards God through lament and praise. It gave words to emotions and situations I had no words for or prayers I could not speak anymore. And it is in this life of prayer, that I have come to understand the Desert Father’s words.

Just as Poeman the Great compared God to water droplets, so have the Psalms been to my heart. The same drops of water on my heart have gradually wrapped around the Word of God. It has been a slow and steady process that requires an endurance I do not always have the energy for. However, the solidarity I find with God and others through the Psalms (and by extension, the BCP) keep me coming back to Him. The words and prayers of this prayer book no longer feel too structured, but a freedom to explore and be touched by God’s Word. The words are no longer foreign but prayers engrained and touch the depths of my heart. For these are the prayers that Christians give up to God.

Amongst the busyness and noise the world brings, the moments of peace and solidarity become precious with God. Coming from a denomination that does not use the Book of Common Prayer, this book gave me a simple path for my heart to explore the wonders and awe of God. It is a place were I am able to silence the inner cacophony of noise and the to-do list that keeps growing in order to exhale in the presence of God.

[1] Ward, Benedicta, trans. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers; The Alphabetical Collection. London: A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1975, 192.

 

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