Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

"Although all Scripture breatheth the grace of God, yet sweet beyond all others is the Book of Psalms. History instructs, the Law teaches, Prophecy announces, rebukes, chastens, Morality persuades; but in the Book of Psalms we have the fruit of all these, and a kind of medicine for the salvation of men."

--St. Ambrose of Milan

No doubt, the part of the Bible that has become the most familiar to me ever since starting the spiritual practice of praying the Daily Office has become the Psalms. They get cycled through multiple times in a year. Conversely, if one prays the Psalms according to the method in the BCP as would be done in a monastic community, one would cycle through all the Psalms in a month!
We hear Psalms every Sunday in worship, we hear them at weddings and funerals, and of course, the ubiquitous Psalm 23 is everywhere from truck stop gift shops to tattoos.

Why do the Psalms hook us so?

Perhaps it's because they are full of raw emotion--joy, singing, dancing, and praise--as well as grief, lament, fear, and rage. Yet, somehow, in the Psalms it comes out all poetic.

If you examine the psalms, you will also notice a pattern, a "formula" for writing them. Additionally, ancient Hebrew scribes often used them for "copying practice"--hence the higher numbered ones often look very similar to the lower numbered ones.

But the "formula" of the Psalms is very simple and most all the Psalms consist of six parts:

1. God is addressed or invoked;
2. A situation, problem, or question is presented to God;
3. A statement of trust in God or an aspect of God is emphasized or stated;
4. A petition is made for God's intervention;
5. A response or acknowledgment to God is exclaimed; and finally,
6. The Psalm closes with praise to God.

The next time you feel yourself gripped by a very raw emotion, try writing a Psalm to express your feelings, using this formula. Above all, don't hold back the emotion. Don't try to clean it up and make it pretty. Use the language that you feel springing forth from yourself--cuss words and all, if it is a Psalm of anger or hurt or fear.

Finally, pray the Psalm you wrote, as an offering to God--more than once if necessary.

Here's an example. I had a difficult day at work recently where I felt like I was being attacked by people who were ignorant of the situation, but they were dead set on blaming it on me, and simply wanted to make me the object of their anger rather than the real culprit. If I were to write a Psalm about it, it might go like this:

Lord God, you see all and know the reasoning behind all things.
I cry out to you because my frustration renders me powerless.

I can handle people who approach me in ignorance, and I can handle those who are haughty;
But I can't handle the combination of both of them in a person.

They fling their poison at me,
When they don't even understand the root of the problem.

Their indignation wounds my soul
In ways they don't realize.

I cannot change them, Lord,
Nor force them to take back their haughty words.

But you have the power to change me,
You alone have the ability to transform all things anew.

Grant me the courage to be serene,
Soften my ego so I no longer care about their wrath.

Show me the river of your loving kindness,
Let it take me adrift to the place where you dwell.

I know that you are present in all things,
A guiding hand in all aspects of my life.

You alone are all power and glory,
You alone are the source of all serenity and peace.

See, it's not that tough!

Now let's try one of praise:

Almighty God, you made the stars and the planets,
you set them in their places and move them in their courses.

The night sky unfolds in front of me,
Innumerable points of light in the vastness of dark.

It blankets me in a sense of awe,
It covers me in your holy comfort like a favorite quilt.

You made these things for me, and me for them,
So I may never feel true loneliness.

Surround me with a sense of your presence,
Help me to always feel connected to it at all times, in all places.

I hear your voice in the stillness of night,
I see your handiwork in the heavens.

I praise you for the glory of the nighttime sky,
I honor you by sitting in its stillness.

You get the drift.

What I've discovered is "writing a Psalm about it" frees me from fretting about the details of the things that bother me and can make me obsess about them, as well as being able, in a sense, to "sing my praises." I can have both pain AND gratitude in the same prayer space, and let them simply coexist, by turning them over to God. As I re-read my "homemade Psalms," I can feel the painful part be replaced by light. In that light is our salvation, and our hope.

G'wan. Write a Psalm. Dare ya!


I sent the following comment to EfM group. Kay Flores, my friend, Priest and EfM mentor suggested that I post it as a comment to your blog, so here it is:

"That was interesting. Her Psalm formula was pretty cool. I do not, however, believe that her first example was really a Psalm because she failed to ask God to smite those who are both ignorant and haughty."

As I was posting this, it occurred to me that I should take a stab at writing a Psalm to illustrate my point.

Heavenly Father, God of Mercy and Justice, righter of wrongs,
My enemies lurk behind me on highways and byways.

They grow closer with each passing minute,
Until they are nearly upon me, but a single car length from my rear bumper.

Please, Oh Lord, save me from these evil people lest they destroy me,
Through their reckless intrusion into my car's personal space.

As I trust in You to guide me though my life, I also trust that
You will use Your mighty power to calm me in my time of fear.

I beg You to smite them down, my Lord,
Or at least strike them blind so they can vex me no more.

As you dwell in my heart I know You will keep me near,
Safe from danger both without and within.

Lord God, I will worship you until I draw my last breath,
And sing your praises from the top of the highest mountain.

I'm still laughing!

What a marvelous Psalm!

Kay may have told you she is my EfM mentor too.

I will have to give her a hard time about the requirement to smite--the praise Psalms are devoid of that one. That might go under a subset of the "angry, vexed" Psalms. LOL

You know, we are both very likely to have to "pay" for this discussion with a Theological Reflection in our respective groups!

Nice psalms, EfM-ers. And Leroy does indeed ask for smiting and it must be a psalm.

I laughing out loud even as I start designing a theological reflection based on writing psalms. Bwahahaha!

I really appreciate the simple structure you've given. It's made me realize that when I pray I often follow the first two, but then wait (forever, it seems) for God to lead me into wisdom as to what to do about whatever is bothering me.

The appropriate thing is to declare his goodness. Changing my focus won't usually change my circumstances. But it will give me better perspective—and from there I find peace of mind, the empowerment of his Spirit, and wisdom.



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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