Saturday, August 28, 2010

Keeping Death: Psalms and Conversion

The Rule instructs to keep death ever before us.

Death is the ultimate reminder that we are utterly dependent upon God in our existence and redemption and consummation. To face death is to keep it real. All of our plans, sifted through this lens, are more likely to be less ego-touched, less sin-touched, more concerned with doing God's will. Facing death daily is permission to slow down and not react and not devise. Facing death is wise guidance to first and always adore I AM, One Who Is Who causes us to be.

What is important and what is the dross or the minor is clarified. So does facing the tough stuff. If we face death, then, paradoxically we are free to live in the moment, face the tough stuff with firm gentleness, and not take ourselves so seriously about everything that we forget to laugh, love, live, and, in Blessed Julian's words, enjoy.

Death says, we need God. We cannot escape facing this reality.

We need God whose is the Creative Word ever speaking us into existence and the Holy Spirit ever bringing sustenance out of the chaos sin injects into life together in human social worlds and into our relationships with the whole of creation. God's Wisdom in Word and Spirit is always at work to order things to, in what Borg and Crossan have beautifully called, the share economy. God's economy given to us in Jesus Christ and to be lived by Christ's Body by the sustaining Spirit is at odds with all that would deny that we are interdependent upon one another for our daily bread, for the good things and tangible graces of life meant for all.

Conversion is not unrelated to conversation, especially conversation with God. And the Psalms are par excellence for recognition of conversion to our utter dependence upon God for our existence, redemption, and consummation. If we face death, we can face the ugliness in ourselves, hope to do so so that our actions are rooted in adoration, and where we fail, to ask for pardon and help:

Be compassionate, O God, as is your way;
in your great compassion wipe away my offenses.

Wash away my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sins.

For I know my transgressions,
and my offense is always before me.

Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your eyes.

You are just when you speak,
You make a fair ruling.

You search for truth deep within me,
You make known to me Wisdom hidden away. (Psalm 51)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

God Everywhere: Psalms and Creation

I greet you simultaneously speaking Peace and >{} reverencing Christ in you by bowing with hands clasped together.

The Rule tells us "God is everywhere." (RB 19). And so in relation especially to The Work of God. Why? And somewhat so sternly? Rule 19 is about reverence. About paying attention. All of heaven and earth are present with us: Holy, holy, holy; heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

The Psalms lead us into attentiveness if said or sung slowly and reflectively in the same manner of well-worn rosary beads. Many days, I wake up to birds singing. I give thanks to God for their song. And take their song as their own praise in the midst of their own daily lives to which we are privy to so little. So many peoples and nations the four-legged, winged, crawling, and finned. The Psalms invite us into a universe at praise of the One Who dwells with us and pitches tent among us (see John and Hebrews and Revelation):
Wisdom, you have made your home with us
from one generation to the next,
Before the mountains rose from the sea,
or the land and the earth were formed,
from age to age you are God. (Psalm 90)
These days I sometimes pray the Beginning of the Day with,
Sustain us, O God, for our refuge is in you.
The words come from Psalm 121. We are in God. You cannot pray the Psalms and not find a more connected relationship with all living beings, indeed, all that exists. Even the rocks shout out. As a child, I had a few rock friends on my shelves. I talked to them as if they were animate. In their own way, they do praise. Recovery of a worldview basted in God's love, soaked in God's presence, reenchantment need not take great volumes, just a few songs. For God's praises are everywhere sung, not just by human words in song and chant and speech, but by tweets and meows, slithers and barks:
Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,
the lands and those who dwell therein.

Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out joy before One Who Is. (Psalm 98)

Praise I AM from the earth,
you sea creatures and the depths;

Fire and hail, snow and fog,
tempestuous wind, doing God's will;

Mountains and hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;

Wild creatures and domesticated,
creeping beings and winged ones.

Let these praise the Name: One Who Is,
for the Name alone is glorified,
Whose grandeur fills heaven and earth.
(Psalm 148)

So many happy voices, so much more to nature "red in tooth and claw."


Friday, August 20, 2010

Preferring Christ: Psalms and Contemplation

I greet you simultaneously speaking Peace and >{} reverencing Christ in you by bowing with hands clasped together.

This morning after beginning my day with my best practice, meditating on the Name of Jesus with coffee in hand and dog by my side, I happened again on Abba Isaac of Syria's words and said them slowly for holy reading:

O name of Jesus,
key to all gifts,
open up for me
the great door
to your treasure-house,
that I may enter
and praise you
with the praise
that comes
from the heart.

Like Abba Benedict, Abba Isaac and many elders before both of them remind us that this one Name, Jesus, is to be preferred above all else. The Eastern Churches have an entire practice of silence wrapped up in this preference for Christ's Name: The Jesus Prayer or hesychast tradition. Many variations exist on this way.

It is, however, no accident that Benedictine's open up the prayer at the end of the day with: "O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us." Abba Cassian reminds us that praying repeatedly this phrase from Psalm 70 leads us to resting in reality, that is, our utter dependence on God. Praise is "recognition of dependence," is practiced trust:

One thing is clear. Praise is not all alleluias and hosannas. If it were, the Psalter would not be listed as “praise.” There is, however, a common thread that runs through the Psalter, regardless of the devotional mood of the individual Psalm. It is the motif of dependency. Regardless of the difficulty that surrounds the individual Psalmist, the solution to the difficulty is always found in trust in and dependence on God….the act of dependence itself becomes the beginning of praise, from which its proclamation comes. (Clifford W. Atkinson, Study Guide for The Daily Office: Proposed Book of Common Prayer, 11)

Praying the Psalms with care, whether said slowly or sung in chant, leads us slowly but gently over the course of a lifetime, to greater and deeper silence. Abba Benedict intends communities that live out of this Great Silence. He sets up practice in such a way that the dangers of the life of solitude are avoided. Silence is among we who pray together the songs that tradition associates with Christ, and through Christ's high priestly ministry, with Christ's whole Body--the Church. And even unrecognizably, or invisibly, the entire Creation.

Praying the Psalms is the Prayer of the Church. And the Prayer of the Church does not divorce communal, outward expression and personal, inner encounter. The contemplative life is communal life. Word and silence are intertwined. Psalms and Christian meditation are cut from the same cloth.