March 29, 2011

Praying the Psalms for Lent

Posted by Raima Larter (@Raima Larter)

Last night, before I sat down to write a draft of this post, I opened my prayer book to the psalm for that day. It was Psalm 69 and these are the opening lines:

Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.
I am sinking in deep mire and there is no firm ground for my feet.
I have come into deep waters and the torrent washes over me…

Images of the tsunami in Japan were fresh in my mind, and I realized, once again, the psalmist, writing centuries ago, had captured a deep human emotion that resonated with my current life and turned it into a prayer. The prayer continues:

Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me.

As is true for almost every psalm, a strong human emotion, stated eloquently and truthfully, is followed by an equally strong statement of faith that God hears us even in our deepest despair. I think this is one reason why the psalms have provided such comfort to so many people through the centuries.

This year, I have taken up a new spiritual practice as my Lenten discipline: praying through the monthly cycle of psalms. 

The Daily Office, which the Virtual Abbey prays every day on Twitter, is built around this idea. The psalms are cycled through in such a way that every psalm can be read in one month. While it is possible to do this as a community, such as the Virtual Abbey does, it is especially nice to try it as a personal spiritual practice.

The Book of Common Prayer includes a section with the text of all the psalms, divided into thirty days-worth of psalm selections, one set for morning and one for evening for each day. I have prepared the PsalmCycleTable that provides this information in a convenient table format.

Consistency and repetition are the best ways to make a spiritual practice a permanent part of your life and it has been shown that it usually takes about thirty to forty days to establish a new habit. I personally think it makes more sense to prayerfully consider adding a new spiritual discipline to my routine during this season, than focusing  on “giving something up” for Lent.

Are you adding a new spiritual discipline to your life for Lent? If the idea interests you, but you don’t know what spiritual discipline to adopt, you might consider praying through the psalms for the next month. Read them silently or, better yet, pray them aloud to yourself in front of a candle. You never know: doing so just might change your life.

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