In a time when our emotions seem like a soup with lots of unexpected ingredients, it is tempting to find ways to numb ourselves. It’s too much! Yet ignoring our emotions is not a habit I recommend. It is helpful to turn to the Psalms of the Bible, where the realities of the human condition are expressed vividly. They could help you express your own anxieties and joys.
This week’s practice, writing a psalm, might seem daunting at first. But if you simply practice it as a personal expression of how life feels to you at the moment, it will help you to regard the daily ups and downs more thoughtfully, with compassion for yourself and perhaps even deeper faith.
You can follow the pattern and theme of any psalm and just rewrite it in your own words, to fit your circumstances and feelings. Start from scratch if you prefer. If you do that, I suggest you follow these guidelines:
· Spend some time in quiet prayer, discerning what is on your heart. Is there a feeling, an image, or a word that is weighing on you?
· Once you land on a theme, decide whether you will start with praise, thanksgiving, or expressing fear and doubt.
· Make your psalm personal, and use descriptive language.
· As with any spiritual writing, resist the temptation to edit. Simply write what comes to you.
Here is what I wrote a year or two ago as a response to Psalm 23. It was a time when I was in a period of intentional sabbatical. I was yearning to be part of a congregation for a season, where I wouldn’t serve as a leader or pastor. You’ll see that yearning reflected in the psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want
Yet following the Shepherd
means I will want
and want and want
because once tasted
life with you invites me
to more and more.
You call me forward
and expose the erstwhile focus of my desire
as inadequate, unsatisfying.
Your rod and staff do comfort
but they also goad and
bar the way back.
They force me to the in between place
where back is not viable (not the way)
and forward is known
only to the Shepherd.
Right now my want has a shape
an outline of a flock.
To be with other sheep who are following
as best they can,
who want to see
what is here but also
what is next
and trust the Shepherd
to take us there.