Monday, February 13, 2012

We Lose More than We Grasp

Had enough of winter?
When praying the psalms each day there is so much--theoretically--that we can do with them. First,  it's natural to invest each day's psalter with our own situations and intentions: our joys, sorrows, and the things for which we're personally thankful.  Next, since we pray the liturgy as the public prayer of the Church, we should think of  the intentions of the whole body of Christ. Last, and most important, we should listen to the voice of our Savior as He  prays the psalms: praising, thanking, and beseeching His heavenly Father.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  While we're at it, we might also  reflect on the history and faith of the chosen people of Israel, and ask ourselves what each psalm may teach us about our moral lives.

Notice that I said theoretically.  In practice, many of us  psalmsayers might have five quiet minutes in a row each morning in which we hope we can zip through morning prayer before it's time to leave for work, or time to deal with the next wet diaper or sibling quarrel. And even those who are retired haven't the mental energy to pray every line of each day's office with complete attention, mining all the meanings and gaining all the insights that are waiting to be found.

Of course we can't do it all at once. That's why there's a repeating  four week  psalter. You get a second chance. And a third. And a twelfth and a thirty-ninth and several hundred more if you keep at the Liturgy of the Hours long enough. If each time your pray a liturgical hour you manage to frame a single intention, or form one edifying mental image, or remember once that you are praying in union with millions of Christians throughout the world, then you are doing just fine. And if you pray a psalm with complete distraction? Don't worry, you are  praying with a large body of believers, and some of them will have prayed it well for you today. That same psalm will be waiting for you again in four weeks, so you'll get another crack at a more mindful sort of prayer then.

Yesterday the Office of  Readings had a passage from St. Ephrem which seems to address this very issue.Here's a bit of it.

Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words? We lose more than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God's word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out...Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such abundance still remains.What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on.

So relax. My list of things to "do" when praying the liturgy is not a checklist to be done all at once, but more like the menu of your favorite restaurant. You know you'll get to try every item eventually.