Praying the Psalms, from nature to sacrament

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. ― G.K. Chesterton

This weekend I offered a retreat on prayer for a community of permanent deacons and their wives. What a faithful group of people, true servants of the servants of God. It was filled with many unexpected graces for me!

Among those graces, I received a deeper insight into the beauty and power of the psalms. In fact yesterday two friends, both within a short amount of time of each other, sent me a text/email sharing desperate situations they both were facing. After reading these, I went into the chapel to wait for the Vigil Mass to begin and opened by happenstance to Psalm 69. I started praying it slowly, for them. It was overwhelmingly clear to me 69:2-3 & 14 was what the Spirit wanted to pray in me for each of them:

Save me, O God, for the waters
have risen to my neck.
I have sunk into the mud of the deep,
where there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep,
where the flood overwhelms me.

But I pray to you, O LORD,
for a time of your favor.
In your great mercy, answer me, O God,
with your salvation that never fails.

I had asked those on retreat during one of my talks to pray in their quiet time with a favorite psalm. To pray with it very slowly, asking the Spirit to open the psalm’s meaning afresh for them. In particular, I asked them to ask the Holy Spirit to open to them something of the spirit and intention of the original Jewish author of the psalm, what he had in his heart when he wrote it.

Later that evening, a number of the retreatants shared with me their experience in praying thus with their psalm — so remarkable. Wow. One in particular stood out to me, so I asked him if I could share his words in my teaching. He agreed.

I had played a sung version of psalm 104 during one of my talks, and so he said he decided to use that psalm since he loved the music that went along with it. He told me,

I have prayed the psalms [in the Breviary] for years and years, but when I opened myself up to what you recommended it was like fireworks. A whole new meaning opened to me. So deep.

Here’s what happened. As I walked through the fields around the monastery praying aloud the psalm’s words, I felt the whole world around me suddenly transform from nature to a sacrament. You know what I mean? It become transparent. God was all around me, playing in the world He had made — it was chilling. Gave me chills.

I say He was playing, but He was also powerful beyond all words. I sensed the whole universe being held up by His power, yet there He was playing around me — in the wind, on the clouds, with the birds. I could hear inside me that music from the video you showed, and I swear, He was dancing to it.

It sounds loony now that I am saying it out loud to you, but during that stretch of time it was so real. Scary, almost.

11 comments on “Praying the Psalms, from nature to sacrament

  1. tmm says:

    My response to your post is “out of the box”, but what you wrote was designed by God to minister to me in a certain specific way. Lately at wits end trying to get the point across about how we should not be racing, or the manner in which we pray should not be like a quick run around the park. In some (many) instances it is reading and not proclaiming or praying that is occurring. Whether it is at Mass, in private, or a public activity, when sufficient time isn’t taken to reverently or conscientious partake and savor a prayer event, graces are lost. It seems we aren’t gaining but loosing ground, as no momentum is being built up. All the saints knew this and if we study them we will try to amend our behavior and go for the gold. For the spiritually serious minded, it can never be about the “fast and furious” mode. Your post massaged my heart and is infusing hope. Maybe, just maybe, more will see the light and buy into slowing things down and digesting the rich morsels of prayers, in order to be able to milk every grace available, grace upon grace.
    📖John 1:16 “For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace”
    Feeling so charged after reading this, and saying: Oh thank you God, thank you Jesus, thank you Holy Spirit, for letting me read this. Validation from someone in the land of the living, Halleluia! A few quotes from a couple of saints on the other side, helping to prevent me from needing spiritual life support:
    ✝️Blessed Thomas of Cori “The Divine Office should be recited slowly and reverently, for if the heart does not pray, the tongue works in vain”

    ✝️St. Edmund: “It is better to say one Our Father fervently and devoutly than a thousand with no devotion and full of distraction”

    ✝️St. Thomas Aquinas: “Purposely to allow one’s mind to wander in prayer is sinful and hinders the prayer from having fruit.”

    Feel like this scripture is the scripture being activated:
    📖 1 Kings 19:18 “And I will leave me seven thousand men in Israel, whose knees have not been bowed before Baal, and every mouth that hath not worshipped him kissing the hands”

    Thank you for this post, so fulfilling to experience second hand in the post what was experienced in actuality by the retreatant. Praise God for the blessings bestowed upon you all, what a retreat!

    🔁It is so true
    Worry is like a rocking chair, giving U something 2do
    But it’s useless & no fun when U end up getting nowhere
    Stick with God, His love never fails & about everything He really does care
    / \ է₥₥╱や㈦ ℒ

    • TMM, As ever, blowing open my thoughts into new vistas — with incisive quotes from saints. Thank you!! Slowly we turn, step by step, inch by inch… God love you, on this feast of St Ignatius! TJMFJN

      • trudymm says:

        Now it can be seen as “opening thoughts into new vistas” (OTNV🔓), rather than being “out of the box” (OOTB📦), well that brings a 🌝 2 my face. Cool sophisticated swag (CSS💫) from DTJN 👊🏼, thank you. Punctuated and capitalized is the virtue so needed, “PATIENCE”. Yes, inch by inch and step by step.

        🐘Forget bout self, trust in God & don’t worry
        That’s da way 2 spare da mind from what is agonizing & gory

        / \ է₥₥╱や㈦ ℒ

  2. Katy says:

    Tom, you and the ‘sharer’ beautifully describe that experience. The Holy Spirit is powerful and beautiful and faithful. I’m taking a grad class through the Augustine Institute on the Creed, and did a paper on the Holy Spirit…among many things, one standout was that “he never points to himself, he never reveals himself. He is sent by the Father to reveal the Son, and the Son reveals the Holy Spirit to us, but the Holy Spirit meanwhile is animating everything the Son does and says, without acknowledging himself.” With that in mind, it’s a beautiful and overwhelming gift to ‘see God playing’ in everything around. Awesome, just awesome.

    As far as the Psalms, I came to love them more on a recent retreat. They do such a good job of helping me pray – where I want to dwell in misery, they ‘go there’ but never ‘stay there’. And when I want to praise God, they help me do so, in my humanity (the words are never too lofty or out of touch with reality). I noticed today in prayer that Jesus never ‘just uproots’ or ‘just removes a thorn’, but he uproots so he can plant, and removes a thorn so he can mend the wound. It’s not enough for him just to ‘get rid of sin’. It’s always to heal, unite, and live with us, in us, through us.

    Thanks, as always, for writing.

    • Katy, thank you for adding your appreciative insight that takes me deeper, wider, higher, freshly different. You have such a delicate perceptiveness that catches the smallest truths and magnifies them. And thank you for encouraging me, always a welcome gift. Godspeed!

  3. Jennifer says:

    TMM and Katy: thank you for enriching multifold this already beautiful post. I love seeing your beautiful takes on Tom’s work.

    Tom: ❤ your psalm prayer for your friends. I know they are blessed by your intercession Thanks be to God.

  4. Mark says:

    From Nature to Sacrament – a powerful summary that I get.

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