Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest blogger Dietrich Bonhoeffer...

...shares some thoughts about praying the psalms.

Well no, not exactly.                                          

But it was with  delight that I recently learned that  this Christian hero, a Lutheran pastor who died for his resistance to the Nazis, had written a lovely little book called Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible, and that it is available both in print and e-reader editions. One reviewer on Amazon stated that this was the book that provoked  Hitler to ban  all of Bonhoeffer's publications, since it dared to suggest that the psalms, the ancient prayerbook of the Jews, should be the prayerbook of Christians as well.

Bonhoeffer explained succinctly why praying with God's words is sure to break us out of the narrow confines of our own feelings and take us to something more complete:

Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ. ..
...When our will wholeheartedly enters into the prayer of Christ,then we pray correctly.

...Repeating God's own words after him, we begin to pray to him. We ought to speak to God and he wants to hear us, not in the false and confused speech of our heart, but in the clear and pure speech which God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.

...All the prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God.

If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray.  If we were entirely dependent on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer. But God wants it otherwise.The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.

How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter together? It is the incarnate Son of God,who has borne every weakness in his own flesh, Who here pours out the heart of all humanity   before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. 

Not every sentence of the book is of great concern to Catholics. The author often dwells  on reconciling elements of protestant theology with the content of the psalms (e.g. guilt, sin,  justification, works). And the author's understanding of suffering is incomplete. He grasps that in His passion, Jesus shares our pain and thus is the only answer to the question of how God permits suffering. But the idea that we can share the suffering of Jesus by joining our pain to His, and cooperating in the Redemption as members of His body--this is lacking from Lutheran theology, and thus, from Bonhoeffer's commentary on the psalms of lamentation.

Nevertheless, Psalms: the Prayerbook of the Bible is full of insights that will enhance your appreciation for the psalms.  It can also make a great starting point of discussion with your evangelical friends who don't "get" the idea of formal or liturgical prayer.