A Trick for Praying Psalms
Praying the psalms in the Divine Office every day, I found that often my eyes glide over the lines but the words don’t register. When I close the book, I wonder if I said anything to God! Lately I’ve been applying a tip St. Ignatius gave for praying the Gospels: use your imagination. Call on all your senses to bring the psalms to life and hold your attention. It’s a though there is a movie screen in your head and you see the verses acted out. You also hear, smell, and feel what they describe. To do this you draw on your own experiences. Here is an example…
“For you my soul is thirsting” Recall the sensation of thirst: the dry mouth, the parched lips, the longing for a cold glass of water.
“My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.” Visualize a desert or perhaps the cracked earth in your own field or backyard.
“In your name I will lift up my hands” Picture yourself with hands raised to the sky.
“My soul shall be filled as with a banquet.” See a table laden with food and relive a feast you’ve enjoyed and how it felt to be full.
“On my bed I remember you.” Remember times when you prayed in bed or thought about God when you couldn’t sleep.
“In the shadow of your wings I rejoice.” See a great eagle hovering over you and your face lit up with joy and peace.
“Your right hand holds me fast.” A popular picture showed a child resting in God’s hand. Recall this, or see yourself holding God’s hand or resting in it.
The psalms are packed with strong, descriptive language and figures of speech that make it easy to experience them: “The Lord’s voice shattering the cedars” (Psalm 29), “By his word the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all the stars” (Psalm 33), “Though an army encamp against me my heart would not fear.” (Psalm 27), “O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51), “The bow he breaks, the spear he snaps. He burns the shield with fire” (Psalm 46).
We can also use this trick when the responsorial psalm is prayed at Mass. It will focus us on the words and help make the psalm truly our prayer.
In my book The Catholic Companion to the Psalms (ACTA Publications) there are more ideas for praying the psalms alone and with others. This book can be found in the bookstore here.
Because the psalms are in the Bible, inspired by God, obviously they are prayers that God wants us to pray to him.
I’ve been schooled in the Ignatian way of praying the scriptures, but your example of praying Psalm 63 was very concrete, and I think I finally “got it.” In fact, it has already made a difference for me in my experience of the liturgy.
Thank you, Kathleen!
I’m glad to hear that this is working for you, Betty! I find that I need to keep doing it until it becomes a habit.