Monday, February 23, 2009

Praying and Singing the Psalms (part 2)

Like all good poetry, the psalms reflect a variety of moods. Some are affectionate and comforting. For example the well-loved Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Others reflect a desolate and broken heart: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Psalm 22). Still others are jubilant: "Cry out with joy to the Lord, Cry out all the world!" (Psalm 66). And then there are the infamous "cursing psalms,".

The psalms are not prose prayers, but poems of praise. They can be recited as readings but the one thing that all the psalms have in common is that they are songs. Psalms are properly called Tehillim ("songs of praise") in Hebrew and psalm-oi ("songs to be sung to the lyre") in Greek.

Many of these songs were originally intended for use in a group, for example during a festival or worship in a synagouge. Others are more introspective and more readily lend themselves to private reflection.

In fact, the psalms have a musical quality that determines their correct style of delivery. Even when a psalm is recited and not sung or is said silently in private, its musical character can still direct its application. A psalm does present a text to the mind, but its objective is to move the heart of those saying, singing, accompanying(on lyre and harp, piano or guitar) or listening to it .

In Christian monastic tradition, integrating the singing of psalms into regular intervals throughout the day--a practice known as the "Divine Office"(Opus Dei)--furnishes the basic rhythm of the monastic day and the grounding for both daily work and contemplative prayer.

To sing the psalms then, is a way to meditate on them verse by verse. The one who inspired the psalmist is still active in the psalms. For this reason the singing of psalms with open hearts is a prime way to engage the living presence of God.

complied from multiple sources

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