Two years ago during my step-daughter’s final months with terminal cancer, I spent three days in quiet reflecton at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN.Worshiping with the Benedictines was part of the structure of my day, the chants and readings opening space for fresh air to enter my angry soul…except for…the Psalms. Outrageously violent, vindictive, intolerant, self-righteous…horrible expressions of emotions I had gone there to revoke.
One day following morning prayer, I asked my Benedictine spiritual guide “Why do you read them aloud? Over and over again. They’re horrible.”
“Yes,” he replied, “because they’re real.” And words to this effect: “All those emotions are in us. Every one. Only if we recognize and remember can hate be transformed into love, fear into trust, self-centeredness into compassion. The gospel makes no sense unless it is a word spoken directly into these parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there, the sides of us we deny or from which we take flight into illusions of perfection.”
The words of another Benedictine, Dom Sebastian Moore of Downside Abbey in England, had hit the mark once before during the greatest personal crisis of my life – a time filled with the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow at the very same time. The words are heavily underlined in my copy of Moore’s The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger. They were a lifeline to a drowning man.
“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of God not as standing at the end of the way we take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”
Or, as Steve concludes his poem, “there is a Psalm for each one of our days.” Here’s the poem.
“A Song for Each Kind of Day”
– Steve Shoemaker, April 12, 2012
One Hebrew word for “god” was “jah.”
(It was a time of many words
for god–and many gods.) To say
“hallel” was for all to sing praise,
so HALLELUJAH meant “Praise God!”
(or “Thanks to you, oh God!”– for some
words could be truly translated
more than one way.
And so, a Psalm, or Song, that offered thanks or praise
might well be paired with a lament:
a cry of pain from one who prays
for help, relief, from gods who sent
disaster. (But, of course, some Psalms
wisely acknowledged that some wrongs
were caused by those who sang the songs!)
There is a Psalm for each one of our days…