Saturday, February 20, 2010

Singing the Psalms

One of the spiritual practices that has been most helpful to me is "singing the Psalms." A number of years ago, I had been trying to read the Bible daily and that just seemed too hard and dry, and then I found this article Introduction: Praying the Prayers Jesus Prayed: Learning to sing the psalms by Cynthia Bourgeault.

Music has always been a way to God for me, and music proved to be my path into the scriptures as well. While I do not always read the Psalms daily, at key times in my life I have read or sung the entire book of Psalms several times as a part of a daily morning and evening practice. Inspired by references to Benedictine monastic practices of singing or saying the Psalms daily in The Holy Way by Paula Huston, I thought that I would re-institute my cycle of Psalms calendar. This calendar includes readings morning and evening and you can read or sing or chant all of the Psalms in six weeks. So if you start on the first Sunday of Lent, you'll be done by Easter.

If you right-click you can get a larger printable version that you can print out for your own use. I also have this in an Excel spreadsheet that I could share—useful for when you want to change the starting date, and all the other dates will change. Leave me a comment with your email if you are interested.

One of my dear friends gave me the St. John's Illustrated Book of Psalms as a graduation present from seminary. This beautiful work of art is a double inspiration as I use it for my Psalm singing. One of the features of this edition is that each Psalm is categorized. According to their categories, with some Psalms being split into two categories, there are 57 Psalms of lament, 27 Hymn Psalms, 18 Psalms of Thanksgiving, 11 Psalms of Confidence, 11 Psalms of Wisdom, 10 Liturgy Psalms, 9 Royal Psalms, 6 Psalms of Zion Sings, and 5 Historical Psalms.

So, if as you go through you think that the Psalmist was wailing and whining a lot, it's true. More than a third of Psalms are lamenting or complaining to God. I think that is a useful reminder that our relationship with God can include complaints about God's behavior and anger at God and questions to God.

I would also highly recommend these singable inclusive language psalters: The Psalter by Gabe Huck, unfortunately out of print, but available used, and Psalter for the Christian People by Gordon Lathrop and Gail Ramshaw. Nan Merrill's Psalms for Praying goes even further in re-imaging the some of the militaristic and patriarchal language of the Psalms.

Someone once said that the Psalms cover every conceivable human emotion, so reading or singing the Psalms is very therapeutic. I hope that you enjoy your journey through the Psalms. If you want to delve deeper, Cynthia Bourgeault has an audio CD with a booklet of singing instructions, Singing the Psalms, and a book with an instructional CD, Chanting the Psalms. What is so helpful about Bourgeault's recordings is that they are of an ordinary singer doing this in everyday life. When I sing the Psalms early in the morning with a frog in my throat, it is not about a public performance, but about opening myself and the world to God's presence through the Psalms.

p.s. Realizing how limited time can be on weekday mornings, I also created a cycle for just weekends. This will take less than six months. See below:

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