One of the opportunities I have to serve the larger community is through participating in interfaith events here in the KC area. This past Thursday my treasured friend, Abbot Gregory of Conception Abbey, and I presented our understanding of how the Psalter invites and instructs our prayers. Gathered at the Jewish Community Center were rabbis, scholars of Christian Scripture, justice workers, and pastors. Central had a significant presence at this event—not because the President was on the program, but because our seminary wants to learn better how to be faithful in the midst of religious pluralism. This is one of the places where the Spirit is prompting Christians to pay attention, in my judgment.
Abbot Gregory spoke out of his life experience as a Benedictine monk of 40 years; at the monastery the community assembles five times each day for prayer, always with the Psalter in hand. Over two weeks’ time, they chant all 150 Psalms. I spoke about how the Psalter “plows the soil of the heart,” making it receptive and fertile for the word of God. As I prepared, I remembered what Daniel Berrigan, hardly a conventional interpreter, writes in Uncommon Prayer of his own encounter with the Psalms. In wrestling with the reality of human violence and sin portrayed there, he said he had “undergone God, and lived to sing it out.” How wise and revealing is this insight!
Too few of us put ourselves in a place where “undergoing God” might occur. We try to domesticate, control, and put at our disposal the God before whom all hearts are open. We falsely believe that our ways are hidden to God, and we live as if we were not always coram Deo—Luther’s description of how all of life is lived inescapably before God. Regular engagement with the wisdom and reproach of the psalms is a means of the reorientation that Berrigan describes, and it is a life-long process of responding to God’s desire for “truth in the inward being” (Psalm 51: 6). Personal integrity ensues when there is fuller coherence between the “cover story” and the “hidden story” of our lives.
The lectionary psalm for this week intones “Happy are those who fear the Lord… they rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous ”(Ps. 112: 1, 4). Fearing the Lord orients humans to live as instruments of grace in a world that batters the heart. In God, “their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid” (v. 8). The Psalter is not only a teacher of prayer, but it is also a cantor for worship. It offers a grammar for our faith so that we might speak of what it means to undergo God. And, we pray, we will be able to “sing it out” as a worthy oblation to the One upon whom our lives depend, in life and in death.
Molly T. Marshall
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