Expressions of our Deepest Longings
By Barbara Mayer, OSB
Editor's note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled "View from the Mount" for our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. This column appeared in the July 2, 2016, edition of the Globe.
Prayer is nourishment for the soul. Without it, we suffer from spiritual malnutrition. Unless we nurture our relationship with God, we lack the strength to grow in love and compassion for others. Prayer is an essential ingredient for becoming whole and holy, to being fully alive.
Many of us find it difficult to pray, especially if we are discouraged or depressed. If we are afflicted with a serious illness or have lost a loved one, we may feel hopeless and abandoned. We often cannot find words to express our innermost feelings. One of the great spiritual writers assures us that the desire to pray is prayer, and Paul in his Letter to the Romans writes that when we can find no words, the Spirit prays within us.
Many Jewish and Christian people find great sustenance in the psalms, biblical prayers that give voice to every human emotion. There are 150 of these religious songs in the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. About half are attributed to King David, the others to individuals or groups. From about the 4th century BC, people have used these prayers to express their sorrow, repentance, praise, and thanksgiving.
Some of the psalms are classified as laments, expressing a whole range of pain and suffering. These prayers are a good way to give vent to anger, despair, hate, and fear. At times when it seems as if we have been abandoned by God, we can identify with David’s desolation in Ps. 13: “How long, O Lord, will you utterly forget me? /How long will you hide your face from me?”
People are often surprised that there are cursing psalms, where the psalmist asks God to crush his enemies. We can add those whom we want God to punish: terrorists, child molesters, racists, murderers, thieves, and evildoers of every kind. It is much better to call on God to take care of these wicked ones than to resort to violence ourselves: “May he rain burning coals upon them;/ May he cast them into the depths, never to rise (Ps. 140).”
The psalms frequently express a trust in God that gives us courage to bear our burdens and face our enemies: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” (Ps. 27).
There are also psalms of thanksgiving that recount deliverance from tribulations: “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Ps. 30).
Again and again the psalmist voices his complete dependence on God and his heart overflows with gratitude: “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice of supplication,/Because his has inclined his ear to me the day I called” (Ps. 116).
The psalms continually refer to God as a God of justice as well as mercy (“His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 136), of might as well as tenderness (“like a weaned child on its mother’s lap” (Ps. 131). They also assure us that we can express the whole gamut of our emotions to this God who always hear the cry of the poor and the brokenhearted: “See you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts be merry! For the Lord hears the poor and his own who are in bonds he spurns not” (Ps. 69).
When you are at a loss for words to speak to God, pick up the Book of Psalms. You can be sure that these inspired words will be life-giving food for your soul.