Bro Paschal Jordan OSB spoke at the Liturgical Commission’s workshop ‘Composing Responsorial Psalms’ March 30 at the Max Murphy Hall, St Philip and St James RC Church, Chaguanas. In this three-part series based on his short course for music composers on the Book of Psalms, Bro Paschal goes into greater detail. Part one appeared in the May 7–13 issue.
Spirituality can be considered as a tool for daily living. In the first place, let us recall the dynamic applicable to all Scripture: The story of the Bible is the story of Jesus, and is my story too.
Psalms of Lament
Let us consider these Psalms of Lament. About one-third of the Book of Psalms are songs of Lament – both individual laments and national laments. Perhaps these psalms are best exemplified by the beginning of Psalm 77 (76):
I cry aloud to God,
Cry aloud to God that he may hear me.
In the day of my distress I sought the Lord…
The psalmists cry out to God and are heard and saved.
From what are they saved?
We know, from the inside, how fearful we are of sickness and death. We know too how sin dogs our every footstep, and how, often, our bitterest enemy is our very self. This is our story.
St Paul understood well this wound of the heart, and it made him cry out, in the Letter to the Romans, Chapter 7:24–25: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?”
And the answer comes swiftly: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!”
Recall the words of Psalm 68 (67):20: This God of ours is a God who saves. Thanks be to God, for the name Jesus means Saviour.
So, what is this dynamic that allows us to cry out and to be heard by God? How is lament a spiritual stance?
The spirituality of Lament is really one of confidence in God. When the psalmists lament, they say something like: God, if I don’t call on you, who else will listen to me? (see Psalm 77:1).
This is why some of the cries sound terrible to our ears – these are cries of vengeance, of ‘do-them-back’ of cursing one’s enemies.
We too, if we tell the truth, have experienced such violent anger and the desire for revenge, in the heat of the moment.
If our words had been written down at that point in time, later on, when our anger cooled or we moved to a different psychological and spiritual space, we too might be horrified at our past sentiments. So it is with the psalms.
When I call on God in my distress, several things can happen:
The Book of Lamentations 3:26 says: ‘It is good to wait in silence for Yahweh to save.’ The Letter to the Hebrews says: ‘Suffering is part of your training. / God is treating you as his sons’ (Hebrews 12:7).
And so then, let us continue to ‘cry to God that he may hear us.’ and so transform our lives. In the words of Psalm 16 (15), we can have full confidence in this God who saves:
And so my heart rejoices,
my soul is glad
Even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
Nor let your beloved know decay.
You will show me the path of life,
The fullness of joy in your presence,
At your right hand, happiness for ever.
Solace from the Book of Psalms