Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Psalter and Depression: Singin' the Blues with Psalm 77

I meant to post this yesterday, but was travelling across  Pennsylvania on I-80, and they tell me you shouldn't blog while driving. Yesterday, Psalm 77 headed up Morning Prayer. My Facebook pal, Harold Koenig, whose interesting little FB blurb on Praise of God appeared here pretty recently, has some new thoughts to share on Psalm 77. His first encounter (or maybe head on collision) with Psalm 77 came long ago, before he was Catholic, and while in a state of mind and soul that we children of the 1970s referred to as "messed up". So look what happened.

An acquaintance wrote that she went to Episcopalian "Evening Prayer," in search of solace, but "The Scripture reading[s] were not right for me tonight,..." I'd suggest reversing the phrasing thus, "I was not right for the Scripture readings tonight."

I'd suggest that it's too early to tell. Sometimes the Holy Word sneaks by our consciousness and is planted more deeply.  Some phrase or story may return unbidden.

When I was in college, dissolute, confused, and depressed.  I began to pray Compline from some Episcopalian book. I was, let's say, unmoved. But by grace, I stuck with it. And little by little, it soaked in.  "The devil walketh about ... seeking whom he may devour!" That was fun to think of.

Then we were assigned to write an analysis of a poem of our choice. I was at a loss, until Psalm 77 bloomed in my mind. It speaks to a depressed heart! 
"Is his mercy clean gone for ever? * and is his promise come utterly to an end for evermore?
  Hath God forgotten to be gracious? * and will he shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure?
And I said, It is mine own infirmity; * but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most Highest.
This is the blues!  You sing out your worst feelings until an answer comes! The answer: Remember the mercy, even a terrifying and mysterious mercy!

The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee, and were afraid; * the depths also were troubled.
The clouds poured out water, the air thundered, * and thine arrows went abroad.
The voice of thy thunder was heard round about: * the lightnings shone upon the ground; the earth was moved, and shook withal.
Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in the great waters, * and thy footsteps are not known.
You're at the point where you feel like saying. "That's okay God.  This is too scary!" Then the Psalmist speaks gentleness!

Thou leddest thy people like sheep, * by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The cosmic terror, he in whose presence nature trembles and begins to fall apart, is a gentle as a shepherd! He cloaks his proper frightfulness in mildness and patience, even for dissolute and depressed college students!

I may have not been right for Compline, but Compline was right for me!


  1. Hi Daria very interesting post and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I just want to know cos I failed to say the office on Tuesday and Thursday if for instance I made a vow to our Lord to fulfil the liturgy of the hours and as mentioned failed it on both Tuesday and Thursday is that seen as a potential sin as I broke a promise to our Lord? Thank you.

    1. Well, I don't know how binding this kind of promise is.I mean, this wasn't a public vow like for a religious order, was it? Always talk to a priest about the advisability of making a vow. If this is just a private promise you made to God I'm sure it's just a failing, not a sin, to not live up to it. Long ago I signed a Promise to say the rosary daily--there are many times I failed in that, but I recall the form I signed said that this "does not bind under pain of sin."

    2. The thing about a "rule" is that it's supposed to HELP you. A gym membership doesn't help if you don't go. It doesn't help if you feel guilty or worry about not going.

      So your rule was too much for you right now. That's perfectly okay! Make an easier rule. Keep making it easier until you can keep it.

      THEN, after you've kept it for a while -- say, for a season of the Church year -- take it up a notch. A SMALL notch.
      Every second you spend "to Godwards" is infinitely precious to him, and better for you than you may know. Don't forget, he's crazy in love with you, and each second delights him.

      So, take it easy. He loves that you tried and he wants you to succeed in this and in every holy endeavor.

  2. Hi Daria having taken your advice on using psalter week 2 for the memorial of st Agnes I noticed that her memorial doesn't have antiphons for prayer during the day is it permissable for me to use the Saturday day hour which I do usually but use the day antiphons for none from the common of virgins/martyrs? Thank you. P.s does the same apply for the conversion of st Paul except morning prayer?

    1. Sorry I did not get a chance to answer earlier. Yes,you could do daytime prayer as you describe. And for Conversion of Paul is a feast, not just a memorial like Agnes, so you will find daytime antiphons for him in the proper of saints.

  3. Hello Daria

    A great reminder to us about the every day relevance of God's Word and perseverance at the start of the civil year. Thank you.

    A query: I noticed that we were instructed to use the same Patristic reading on 6 January (pre-Epiphany) as allocated on Baptism of the Lord on 9 January?

    I've got nothing against St Gregory Nazianzen but I chose a different Patristic reading not used in the week before Epiphany on 6 January for the sake of variety.

    As we face the same issue in 2018 (same Patristic reading on 6 and 8 January), for the sake of variety would you recommend that we choose an unread patristic reading on 6 January from the selection for the week before Epiphany?

    Thanks for your advice.

    1. You know, the days between Epiphany and the return to ordinary time seem to have some significant design flaws, and not only when we have a late Epiphany as we did this year. I've written about it in the past with the descriptor "Trainwreck". Yes, it would make sense to seek an alternate reading. Are you aware of the 2 year cycle for the Office of Readings? If you use the Universalis app, you can choose this option.

  4. Hi Daria first off I'd like to say thank you very much your help and guidance has improved my praying of the hours vastly as now I say it correctly and it's thus far got me through the Feast of the conversion of st Paul and the memorial of S's timothy and Titus for which I used the weekday psalms apart from vespers. I would like to query I haven't exactly set myself a time schedule of when I say the Divine office I. E if I wake at 12.00pm il say morning prayer etc.. I would like to know as I'm planning on setting more appropriate times would 8:50 am for morning prayer between 1:30-4.30 for the day hour, 5.30pm for vespers and 10.30pm for night prayer would these times correspond with the office at which these hours are to be said. Thank you.

    1. I'm out of town right now with only a phone to type on. Will reply at length in a few days.