Express emotions through prayer
BY DANIEL QUINNThis semester, I am taking a Scripture class on the psalms. This is a big shift from the Scripture classes we have had before, which covered almost every other type of literature in the Bible: the origin stories and pre-history, the historical books, the prophetic books, the Gospels and the letters.
With the psalms, we have left the realm of prose story-telling and entered the realm of poetry.
Poetry can be very emotional; it uses more imagery, and it says things that speak first to the heart, not only to the mind. And unlike other poetry, the psalms were meant to be prayed.
The writers of the psalms had different purposes for each psalm: some are hymns to God's majesty; some are psalms of thanksgiving; and some are laments which complain to God that things are not as they ought to be.
Laments, in the opinion of my professor and of various scholars, have been lost these days because we feel that we should not speak to God in that way. We feel bad if we get angry with God. We feel restricted only to praise and worship of God.
Our funeral rituals focus rightly on the resurrection - but perhaps to the exclusion of expressions of our pain, grief and loss. On the contrary, we should express our displeasure that death is a fact of life, and that it shouldn't be this way.
We know that Christ fixed this - that He became victorious over death - but this does not take away the pain we feel when someone dies.
We must be allowed to express these emotions to God, and, as one of my teachers said in a homily a few weeks ago, the presence of laments in Scripture gives us permission to talk with God in this way. No matter what we are feeling, there is a psalm that may help us to express ourselves to God, because they cover the whole range of human emotion.
Some of the psalms were written for individual piety. For example, the first psalm serves as an introduction to the psalter, and encourages the reader to use the book of psalms in personal prayer.
Others were written for communal worship. For instance, Psalms 113-118 make up the Hallel, which is a great prayer of thanksgiving (think "Alleluia") that is sung by the gathered community on most Jewish holy days.
We as Christians continue this tradition of using the psalms in liturgy as we sing a psalm as part of the Liturgy of the Word at every Mass. The psalms also make up the largest section of the Liturgy of the Hours, another public liturgy of the Church.
The Liturgy of the Hours is an important part of the spiritual life of any ordained minister or consecrated religious. Basically, it is a four-week cycle of five brief (maybe 15 minutes each) prayers at morning, midday, evening and night.
This makes holy the hours of the day; this sanctifies our day and helps us to offer the day, which is first a gift from God, as a gift back to God. It stemmed from the Jewish practice of taking a break at different hours of the day to pray communally in the temple or at a synagogue.
Jewish Christians continued this practice, even as they became separated from the synagogues. Eventually, the Liturgy of the Hours became a common practice, but over time the laity fell away from the practice, and ordained and vowed religious made promises to pray it.
The Liturgy of the Hours is a big part of seminary life, as we will be promising to pray it for the rest of our lives. We pray two of the hours, Morning and Evening Prayer, as a community almost every day, and the rest we pray in private or in small groups. Therefore, after four weeks, we have prayed almost all 150 of the psalms.
After four weeks, we have been exposed to the entire range of human emotions and have expressed them to God on behalf the members of the Church who are feeling them.
After four weeks, we have made an entire month holy, one hour at a time.
(Daniel Quinn is a seminarian in formation for the priesthood for the Diocese of Albany, and is originally from Holy Trinity in Johnstown.)