Friday, February 18, 2011

But my Soul isn't Filled with Evils!

Those of you who are beginning your adventure in liturgical prayer by  saying Night Prayer (compline) this week are going to run into one of the most woeful psalms of all, Psalm 88. This will happen tonight.

If things are going really badly in your life right now  (divorce, chemotherapy, seriously delinquent children, a death in the family) then skip this post, because Psalm 88 will make perfect sense to you. This is the  psalm to pray when you have hit bottom. Unlike most complaining psalms (see my earlier post: How to Complain to God in 3 Easy Steps) Psalm 88 doesn't follow the typical formula of inserting little statements of hope and trust amidst the pain.  Instead the praying soul simply lays out its misery and only asks, Lord, Why?

But when  circumstances are not so bad, Psalm 88 is one of those that makes some beginners not so sure the Divine Office is for them. What does it mean to pray these words when life is pretty darn good? Right now, I am most decidedly not on the brink of the grave, at the end of my strength, or weighed down with God's anger. My friends have not abandoned me, my eyes are not sunken with grief,and I do have companions other than darkness. So what do I do with this psalm?

Here's two hints:  Communion of Saints. Mystical Body of Christ.

You know how this works, right? In Christ we are one. Members of one body. What comes to me is a line from a song we sang in high school choir: "each man's joy is joy to me, each man's grief is my own."
So when you not feeling miserable, you are praying this psalm for those who are. Perhaps while reading this psalm you will think of people you know who are in need. Or perhaps you may offer it for all brothers and sisters in Christ who are presently suffering the worst things that could happen. For those who are in the grips of grief, severe illness, or addiction. For the imprisoned, for those who are facing persecution or martyrdom for the faith.

And there's even a greater way to use this psalm: as a reflection on the Passion of Jesus. In fact, a reallly good pray-er will combine these two: mediating on the Passion of Christ with that of His Body on earth right now.

In conclusion: anytime a psalm does not reflect your personal mood--who cares?  It's not about you. It's about Christ and His church, and the privilege of uniting your own prayer to something far greater.