Spiritual Practice: Writing Psalms

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.  

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