Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Praying and Singing the Psalms (part 1)

Praying and sing the psalms

Jesus himself would have been raised to recite and sing the psalms, a tradition that was already a thousand years old when he was born. Jesus often responded to questions about himself and his mission through reference to the psalms, most poignantly in his last words on the cross: in Matthew, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Psalm 22:1); and in Luke, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Psalm 31:5).

The early Christians, followed this Jewish tradition. By the third century A.D. this practice was firmly in place in the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers whose ascetic experiments in the deserts of Syria and Egypt constitute the most powerful and sustained exploration of the path of inner transformation ever to have arisen in Christianity.

The psalms became the hymn book of the desert and laid the ground work for nearly two thousand years of spiritual practice. They were incorporated into monastic life through the daily office. Benedict in the early 6th century explained in his rule how his monks were to daily pray the psalms.
"The psalms are the path you must follow," said St. Romuald, the 11th-century founder of the Camaldolese Benedictine order, "--never leave it."
For centuries followers of Christ have processed their own spiritual journeys through them. When we pray or sing the psalms, we are walking on a well-trod path.


Graphic: A Dead Sea Scroll manuscript containing the Psalms

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