Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Good Rant

When I first started visiting an Episcopal church years ago, it was early on Sunday and the occasional weekday morning. I'd enter the church in the dark and the quiet, slip into a pew, kneel and say some prayers. Then I didn't know what to do. Whether or not anyone else was present, it would be ever so quiet and still, and my mind would race in a million different directions. What steadied me and prepared me for the Eucharist was leafing through the Book of Common Prayer.

I soon developed the habit of reading the Psalms. I'd simply open up a page at random and start reading, the more obscure and unfamiliar, the better. I was struck with the violence and anguish in many, but most of all the deeply human voices I heard crying and singing out of time and space. They came to me when I most needed to hear them, when I was lost, hopelessly I thought.

This morning it is dark and still. I recently put the Daily Office (courtesy of Josh Thomas at on my Google Reader, but this was the first time I did more than give it a cursory glance. Lo and behold, there was one of those psalms, the quirky, howling kind that came to me so often in that early morning sanctuary.

I can't explain why I love these so. I know -- they seem to speak in terms of violence, vengeance, and retribution, darkly dividing the world between Me and Them. That's not what I hear, though. It's the intensity, the emotion, the raw humanity that draw me in, yet leave me with a quietude and trust beyond all reason. It is the scandal of the Incarnation, the God who comes to us in the Bethlehem stable, knows the depth of our betrayal in the garden, and finally reaches out to us in our broken humanity as we kneel, trembling beneath the Cross. He knows and hears us when our voices cry out in anger and despair, yet steadies and draws us near. God is forever just and merciful through all the torrents of our human cries and cares.

Here is today's psalm from Morning Prayer

Psalm 55

Hear my prayer, O God; *
do not hide yourself from my petition.
Listen to me and answer me; *
I have no peace, because of my cares.
I am shaken by the noise of the enemy *
and by the pressure of the wicked;
For they have cast an evil spell upon me *
and are set against me in fury.
My heart quakes within me, *
and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling have come over me, *
and horror overwhelms me.
And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! *
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee to a far-off place *
and make my lodging in the wilderness.
I would hasten to escape *
from the stormy wind and tempest.”
Swallow them up, O Lord; confound their speech; *
for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
Day and night the watchmen make their rounds upon her walls, *
but trouble and misery are in the midst of her.
There is corruption at her heart; *
her streets are never free of oppression and deceit.
For had it been an adversary who taunted me,
then I could have borne it; *
or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me,
then I could have hidden from him.
But it was you, a man after my own heart, *
my companion, my own familiar friend.
We took sweet counsel together, *
and walked with the throng in the house of God.
Let death come upon them suddenly;
let them go down alive into the grave; *
for wickedness is in their dwellings, in their very midst.
But I will call upon God, *
and the LORD will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday,
I will complain and lament, *
and he will hear my voice.
He will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me; *
for there are many who fight me.
God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me and bring them down; *
they never change; they do not fear God.
My companion stretched forth his hand against his comrade; *
he has broken his covenant.
His speech is softer than butter, *
but war is in his heart.
His words are smoother than oil, *
but they are drawn swords.
Cast your burden upon the LORD,
and he will sustain you; *
he will never let the righteous stumble.
For you will bring the bloodthirsty and deceitful *
down to the pit of destruction, O God.
They shall not live out half their days, *
but I will put my trust in you.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.



Josh Thomas said...

Lady, I'm with you, I love the psalms. You never know what you're going to get, but it will speak to the human condition, all the way from ecstasy in God to dashing an enemy's head against the rocks.

It's good for us to know our own despair is something God's seen and dealt with many times before, as is our joy when a little bit of grace turns up.

Please keep writing.

Saint Pat said...

I did the same thing when I came into the church -- spent hours and hours with the Book of Common Prayer -- it was brand new to me. It's how I became familiar with the Psalms, before I got to know the Bible.

I confess sadly I don't spend as much time with the book now. You've inspired me to go gack and spend more time with it.

Mary Ann said...

And I was deeply nourished in my first two years of seminary by morning prayer that depended heavily on the BCP-- and by learning chanting. (In my third year having a baby intervened, and I couldn't attend any more.)

pj said...

Klady, thank you for this. I'm inspired to pick up my old paperback Bible and go back into the psalms. They certainly are human, aren't they.

klady said...

Thanks so much, Josh.

Pat, so you too were drawn to it. I think Jake mentioned it the other day, too, in the context of trying to encourage people to just get the feel of it by not putting everything in a service bulletin.

Mary Ann -- imagine, a baby changing your reading habits! That made me smile - my "babies" are 15 and 18 now and I still don't read, think, or do much of anything like I used to.

P.J. I'm not deeply into translation issues, but somehow I find the BCP version of the Psalms much more to my liking (although a PB Bible sure is handy).

BTW, I love the photos and the presentation at Daily Office, but sometimes I like the feel of the book in 3D.

All this reminds me that I don't know exactly what I did with the one that my mother (the Methodist who felt nevertheless she should give her daughter something when I, at age 41, got confirmed in TEC). It was signed by then Bishop Griswold, who confirmed me. We moved six years ago and I'm still unpacking!

Josh Thomas said...

Klady, I too love to have the Book in my hands. Every morning I read a psalm from the 1928 prayer book, because that's what I was raised on...

...and because when I moved three years ago, that was the first one I found. It took me weeks before I could locate my '77 version (which says Proposed Book on the title page; it hadn't yet been ratified by a second Convention).

Then I'd get all caught up in the book juggle, trying to remember what freakin' week it was, muttering, "It sure would be nice if somebody would put this all online."

To which God said, "Hey you!"

And I've been hooked ever since.

klady said...

Well, thanks to you I may even overcome my prejudice against Morning Prayer -- which arose from first attending TEC daily Eucharists, learning those words by heart, and then fumbling several years later in a parish that did Morning Prayer first for weekday masses. Everyone else knew exactly where to go but I couldn't ever get it fixed in my mind.

So now I have the best of both worlds -- the book when I want it for the Psalms and your website to be able to read without thinking where to go.

(Wish I could be as good about responding to those "Hey you!" calls!)