As Benedictines we gather morning and evening for the Liturgy of the Hours to chant the beautifully poetic Psalms of David. As the bell rings and invites us to come into God’s holy presence, we stop all work we are doing, whether finished or not, to come together “to sing the Psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices”(Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 19:7). Upon our arrival to Morning Prayer, we still may be in sleepy mode; when we come to Evening Prayer, we may be tired from the activity and challenges of the day. But there is something about this gift of sacred pause that reminds us that we are here to sing God’s holy work of prayer.
As the organ intones the first line of the Psalm, we ask God to awaken our hearts and minds to listen attentively to each word of revelation. There are times that we might chant an entire Psalm and then realize our minds were on some other planet. Occasionally, a word or phrase will catch our attention, and we know that God is speaking directly to us.
The Psalms are full of an array of emotions. They can be uplifting or they can be full of darkness. They can be joyful or they can be sad. They can make us happy, or they can make us melancholic. The Psalms reflect all of our life experiences and are as timely today as they were in the time of David. The words of the Psalms seep into the very core of our being. They become part of our life’s journey and stay with us throughout the day. In the midst of our daily work, our private prayer, or our conversation with others, a line or word that we chanted earlier may suddenly jump from out of nowhere, and we know that this is God’s gentle whisper. “Benedictines become so close to the psalms that they become…like a heartbeat…Internalizing the psalms in this way allows contemporary Benedictines to find personal relevance in this ancient poetry.” Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (Riverhead Books, 1996), 99-100.
So day in and day out we come to sing our gratitude for God’s call, our longing for a deeper relationship with God, and our cry for a peaceful world. We pray for ourselves, for the world, and for those unable to pray. Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister sums it up perfectly: “Prayer…if we sing praise wisely, or well, or truly, becomes a furnace in which every act of our lives is submitted to the heat and purifying process of the smelter’s fire so that our minds and our hearts, our ideas and our lives, come to be in sync, so that we are what we say we are, so that the prayers that pass our lips change our lives, so that God’s presence becomes palpable to us.” Joan Chittister, OSB, The Rule of Benedict Insights for the Ages
(The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005), 89-90.
“I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.” Ps. 89:1
By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB