What a difference three weeks makes. Three Saturdays ago I spent the day in hiking books and wide-brimmed hat picking up tornado debris from the monastery grounds. Helicopter blades spun repeatedly through the sky. Floating fragments of wood bobbed aimlessly along the shoreline of our small pond. Flashlights and candles were our sole evening light source.
Today I donned Sunday attire, charged up the camera batteries without a second thought about the power source, and strode out onto a pristine front lawn. This was our day to celebrate the blessing of our renovation project, and the only thing that shone more brilliantly than the morning sunlight was the joy in our hearts.
I think the only way our hearts can move so seamlessly from the incredibly hard work of the past three weeks to the buoyant joy of this celebratory day is the Psalter from which we daily chant. The Psalms express the breadth and depth of human emotion before God – from buoyant joy to deepest lament, from glad thanksgiving to poignant plea. Singing the Psalms in a four week cycle – day after day, week after week, year after year – implants and imprints the words of the Psalmist deep in our hearts. When we experience sorrow, the Psalmist’s lament comes readily to mind. When we experience joy, the Psalter gives us words with which to let our praise and thanksgiving resound.
The Psalms also form within us the deep realization that our human joys and sorrows are not only transient, but they are rooted in something that transcends the immediate situation. The Psalms help us learn to take all of our experiences and ground them in God, in something deeper than passing events and situations no matter how intense they may be. They also help us learn how to hold in our hearts simultaneous joy and sorrow – a combination that was certainly present today as tornado victims were repeatedly referenced in our ceremony of blessing.
The Psalms form us, teach us, and help us to see all of our human experience – from tornado aftermath to festive blessing – in light of the unsearchable riches of the wisdom and goodness of God.