Exegeting the Heart with the Psalter

Kramskoi, Ivan. Christ in the Wilderness, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

 

Each day of Lent, Conception Abbey has been sending a Psalm, accompanied by commentary and then a prayer. As a part of my Lenten discipline I have been reading these daily messages along with the Benedictine community.

The Psalms have the uncanny ability to provide a mirror to the rawest, most fearful human emotions.  They articulate the desolation one feels when thinking oneself abandoned; they seek deliverance from “enemies,” whether figural or actual. The Psalms also exult with praise for God, the joys of human community, the consolation of divine presence, and the artistry of creation. Capturing both the depths and the heights of the human experience, Psalms exegete the heart, with all its capacity for self-deception and purity of intent. Truly, they read us as much as we read them.

Today’s posting is Psalm 42, “Thirsting for the Lord.” (One of the riches of this Lenten offering is that each of the Psalms receives a title.). This one is familiar, beginning with the words:

Like the deer that yearns for running streams,

so my soul is yearning for you, my God.

My soul is thirsting for God, the living God;

when can I enter and appear before the face of God?

 

Photo by Fiona Naughton on Unsplash

 

The Psalm is about longing and yearning for deeper intimacy with God.  The writer knows what spiritual thirst is, and urgently this psalm calls for divine presence to refresh the parched experience of feeling at a distance from God. Spiritual peril is at hand.

The Psalmist repeats the word “soul” (nephesh) six times, suggesting personal awareness that the very center of being is somehow disconnected, “cast down,” from the vital source of life.  This speaks of great spiritual perception and is instructive for us. When we cannot sense the wholeness of life that arises from knowing our need of God, we have lost our way.  This Psalm speaks of thirst, the most fundamental requirement for life, and knows where to find replenishment.

Lent is about slowing down long enough to feel our lack, our longing.  It is about facing our true hunger and thirst, which too often we seek to assuage with what will not satisfy. Forty days, patterned after Jesus’ time in the wilderness, carries promise for clarity and renewal in the power of the Spirit. Faithful observance will distill our longings and prompt us to rest in God’s provision.

My Benedictine friends know nearly all the 150 Psalms by heart, and I would like to steep in them enough that they would shape my heart, also.  As Brueggemann has observed in Praying the Psalms, “what cannot be said out loud cannot be redeemed.”  The Psalms surely say what we are too timid to admit, and thus they provide a grammar of redemption.

 

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity and all creation.

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