Psalm 143

Psalm 143

One of the questions that I get asked most frequently is ‘Why do you bother continually singing psalms?’ This is usually asked with a degree of incredulity that we would even imagine singing them, and an implication that it must, surely, get boring after a while. There are a good number of answers to this question, but the one I most often give is that the continual recitation of the psalms remind us of who we really are.

In Chapter Nineteen of his Rule, St Benedict says, ‘Let us stand to sing the psalms so that our minds are in harmony with our voices.’ Our order’s own rule, the Rule of St Augustine, commands us to ‘entertain our heart with what our lips are reciting’ when we pray the psalms together. The recitation of the psalms in common is central to the continual conversion of life that the religious life entails.

Psalm 143, the last of the Penitential Psalms, is, like the others, full of expressions from the psalmist of a desire to remember and return to God, and for God, in turn, to remember us. ‘I remember the days of old, I meditate on all that thou hast done; I muse on what thy hands have wrought. I stretch out my hands to thee; my soul thirsts for thee like a parched land.’ (Psalm 143:5-6). But remembering God’s actions is not simply about remembering what God has done, it’s also about remembering who God is, and, by extension, our own relationship with God.

By pondering on the works of God, we see God’s action in the world around us, in our own lives, and, most importantly, come to a new realisation of our continued need for God: ‘my soul thirsts for thee like a parched land.’ This shouldn’t surprise us, the word, metanoia, repentance, also means a change of mind, and so a key part of our repentance has to feature a conscious changing of our mind, turning our whole mind towards God.

The Seven Penitential Psalms have been traditionally used daily during Lent since the time of Innocent III in the early thirteenth century. They are, in my experience, a good preparation for confession, and are also a good place to start at times when prayer is a particular challenge or struggle. In the Odyssey, Odysseus, making his way from the unhappiness of imprisonment with Calypso, finally begins to return to reality on his journey to his homeland of Ithaca when he meets the bard Demodocus, and finds in his songs the words that he can finally use to express his true identity. What Odysseus finds in the songs of Demodocus should be what we find in the texts of the Psalms. We should be able to see not just ourselves in the words of the Psalmist, whether singing God’s praises or lamenting our own unworthiness, but we should be able to see, no matter how imperfectly, something of our real self in relation to God.

Br Albert Robertson was recently ordained Deacon, and is completing his theological studies at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Comments (1)

  • A Website Visitor

    Thank you for this reflection, Br. Albert. It helped me to understand my growing awareness of how the Psalms are a chater in the Owner’s manual for our personal daily conversion. Our precious God so wants to help us to know Him all the more. Now I will utilize the 7 Penitential Psalms in time for our greatest feast.

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