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God's Desire in Us

On a post below I referred to the Valyermo Chroncile, published by St. Andrew's Abbey. Another fine article in the current issue is "Why Sing Psalms?" by Dr. Paul Ford who teaches theology and liturgy at St. John's Seminary, Camarillo. If I am not mistaken, Paul occasionally comments here at dotCommonweal.The article makes clear the Church's indebtedness to Israel's prayers: the Psalms. But Paul also includes a quote from Ann and Barry Ulanov that particularly struck me:

Prayer is the place where we sort out our desires and where we ourselves are sorted out by the desires we choose to follow ...Prayer enlarges our desire until it receives God's desire for us. In prayer, we grow big enough to house God's desire in us which is the Holy Spirit.

And the following from C.S. Lewis:

We must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us ... It may well be that the desire can be laid before God only as a sin to be repented; but one of the best ways of learning this is to lay it before God.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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My goodness! Quoted by Father Imbelli on dotCommonweal! Now if I can only publish once in Commonweal and the London Tablet, I will be ready to go to heaven . . . The article you praise is a conflation of the first two articles in a six-part series on psalm-singing I have just written for Celebrate (Novalis). The theology is from the dissertation I wrote on Lewis's Theology of Prayer and Discernment for Fuller Seminary back in 1987. I've been trying to live up to these ideas ever since.Thank you, Father.

I found the prayer-passiveness of the Ulanovs' words right on target. Though prayer often begins with asking/pleading/bitching/preaching, etc, true prayer always seems to end with listening. Maybe there's something to the Islamic teaching on submission, after all. Or maybe that's just the "A Catholic" in me talking--oops, sorry 'bout that. Either way, I would definitely be interested in reading more from Ford in Commonweal. I have an idea whom he could sub in for (no, it's not any of those who blog here).

I've observed that deacons in formation, and their wives, don't always cotton to Liturgy of the Hours and its psalm-intensive content. I suspect it may be because, in praying LotH, we're praying, not our own words, but the psalmist's (from another millenium and halfway round the world) and trying to appropriate them as our own. That's hard work.My own experience is that it's well worth the effort. FWIW.

Saint Augustine taught his congregation that praying the psalms in the Church is to pray them as the prayer of the whole body of Christ. If the psalm is one of affliction, and I am not personally afflicted at this moment, some member of Christ's body is. And so for thanksgiving, repentance etc.One way I try to make this concrete is to begin the "hours" by saying: "O God, come to our assistance; Lord, make haste to help us!"

Jim, intriguing comment. This year's Personal Scripture Project is reading the Psalms, and I have to say that I use them more to riff on my own ideas (or appropriate them as my own, as you put it). Yes, it is hard work, and I find my mind wandering and categorizing a lot. I get an occasional insight, but I find a daily dose of psamistry a lot like wading through a relatively shallow pool of images and ideas (which I assume speaks more to the paucity of my own soul than that of the psalmists').I'd like to know more about how your experience with the LotH has paid off for you (at the risk of appropriating Fr. Imbelli's thread), and (more to the thread's point) how reading the psalms relates to the idea of laying who and what we are before God.Ouch! Do wives of deacons in formation have to read the LotH?? Raber with his bad Catholic wife is going to have to wait for her demise, an annulment, or some type of miraculous spiritual makeover to explore his possible vocation, I fear.

Wonderful insight! Wish I'd had this in Lent!

Thank you, Fr. Imbelli, for this wonderful post, and to Dr. Ford for sharing his insights using the Psalms as prayer. I have been praying the LOH for many years, and have grown to love the psalms. The key to understanding the praying of the psalms in the LOH, as Fr. Imbelli pointed out so well is that we pray the psalms in the LOH, we are praying in the name of the whole Body of Christ, the Church. It is not simply personal prayer, which it can be, but it is the public, communal prayer of the whole Church. It has become for me a source of deepspiritual nourishment. I love it.

Im again making my way through St. Augustines expositions on the Psalms, and as it happened this morning I found this sentence in the first paragraph of his reflections on Ps 37: May the Lord be present to our hearts so that we may profitably find our voices here. Augustine often expressed the hope that his congregation would make the voice of the Psalmist its own. It is your voice, he would say, if you wish it to be.I think what Coleridge said in general of the Scriptures is especially true of the Psalms: that I have met everywhere more or less copious sources of truth, and power, and purifying impulses: that I have found words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterances for my hidden griefs, and pleadings for my shame and my feebleness.... In short, whatever finds me, bears witness for itself that it has proceeded from a Holy Spirit, even from the same Spirit, which remaining in itself, yet regenerateth all other powers, and in all ages entering into holy souls maketh them friends of God, and prophets (Wis 7:27). He summarized his view: that in the Bible there is more that finds me than I have experienced in all other books put together; that the words of the Bible find me at greater depths of my being, and that whatever finds me brings with it an irresistible evidence of its having proceeded from the Holy Spirit (Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, the end of Letter 1 and the beginning of Letter 2).

Well, perhaps with perseverence, the Psalms will find me, too. So far, I find them somewhat tedious but hope, with Fr. Imbelli's insight, to find my reading more profitable soon.

Prayer and the complete trust that God accepts me as I am have definitely helped me accept myself as I am and get to know myself better.

Jean, I apologize for replying so tardily - life is busy these days.Another aspect of praying them in Liturgy of the Hours, rather than, say, reading them straight through in a prayerful way, is that LotH is arranged in a 4-week cycle, so you encounter the same psalms, over and over again, at least once/month, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, and so on. After a while, they get to be like old friends in this way. Even people you don't particularly like at first can become close friends over time.

Claire--Don't want to take this thread in a wrong direction, as I'm essentially in tune with your comment, but this voice keeps whispering in my other ear that there's danger ahead. Where does one draw the line between "complete trust that God accepts me as I am" and complacency/rationalization? If we're works in progress, then there's always work to be done. To take an extreme example, what's the response if Hitler says that? If the response is, "Sorry, Adolph, that's not quite right", what's the implication for the rest of us when we pray?

I will never forget a year I had, great trouble at work, seemingly impossible dilemmas and such anguish and I decided to pray a psalm a day as a way to navigate through the painful difficulties. The psalms were signal fires for me in that half year, signs that others had been through this hard way before me and that I too, could come through it. The psalms are alive with searching and desire for justice, and offer bottomless consolation when we are at a loss and searching. This is all outside the context of the Liturgy of the Hours but since that year, they have all been counted among my old friends.

For me it has been helpful to begin the lament Psalms and get carried away by them into praise. Most of them (I know of one exception) begin with a cry of piercing sadness but then reach a turnaround point. After that, the praise begins. There are many examples, the most famous is the one the Lord made his own, Psalm 22.

"Even people you dont particularly like at first can become close friends over time."Hmm. Maybe. FWIW, I'm using the daily readings (on a two-year cycle)/psalter in the BCP. There's some repetition of psalms, but perhaps not as much as in the Liturgy of the Hours.I notice the "Anglification" of the translations. Very English, almost Anglo-Saxon.As you can see, I've turned it more into a literary/linguistic project than a prayerful one. My bad.

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