One of my silliest memories from childhood is the time when I was seven years old and decided I would play a trick on my six-year-old brother, Gordy. It was nighttime, and my mom had probably run a short errand to the neighborhood store. Everyone else was gone, so we were alone in the house.
As we were playing, a bright idea came to me: I could scare Gordy by turning out the light and screaming at the top of my lungs. So I stood by the light switch near the door, turned off the light, and commenced shrieking. Taken completely unawares, Gordy likewise started to cry out. There we stood, in the dark, yelling at the top of our lungs. The drama heightened when, amidst the blackness and the cries of my brother, I started to get scared. Really! I got pulled into the fear, despite having created it. A wave of panic passed over me such as I’ll never forget. Then a tiny realization dawned: the light switch. I quickly flicked on the light and opened the door. Our panic subsided, and I was a little wiser for it.
I will always remember this for two reasons: 1) the panic that I felt and 2) the lesson I learned about myself and others. That lesson was one that has stayed with me, and it is this: we can easily get pulled into fear (or any other strong emotion) by those around us.
Human life is filled with strong emotions, whether we feel fear, love, anxiety, joy, gratitude, anger, wonder…these are just a few. Feelings are strong. They can be life-giving, toxic, or somewhere in between. But where do we go with them? How do we calm and make fruitful the panic, euphoria, or uncontrolled energy that we sometimes experience?
We can turn the light on when we go to God with these feelings, and in fact that’s modeled in the Psalms. This book of the Bible (now available in a beautiful prayer edition, The New Testament and Psalms) was developed by our Jewish forebears as prayers to be used in their own liturgical services. The collection that we have today, of 150 diverse psalms, uses different literary forms that can be viewed in distinctly recognizable patterns. As we pray with this book, we run across royal psalms, wisdom psalms, psalms of thanksgiving, psalms of lament, historical psalms, and more.
The most important point is that we pray with the psalms. That’s how we turn the light on. They are the prayer book used by God’s chosen people of the first testament and now are used by us, the followers of Christ. The joys and sorrows of those who went before us are recorded in these psalms. As we pray them, we join with those who went before us in faith, and we are united to all those who still turn to God using these to voice their concerns to God. Catholics are familiar with the Psalms, since they are used at the first half of the Mass in the Liturgy of the Word when we pray the Responsorial Psalm which is either said or sung.
So this repertoire of prayer that we Catholics have been exposed to offers a foundation. At times, enveloped in fear or consternation, I have found light in one psalm or another. And I’m not the only one. Jesus also found solace in these prayers of his people. Even from the cross, he prayed with them, crying out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” He was using the opening stanza of Psalm 22, which begins with those words. Was the Lord despairing? No, he was offering all that he was to God, united to all who prayed those words before him and since. He also knew the entire psalm by heart, a prayer which expresses these sentiments also:
For he [God] has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations. (NIV translation)
At various times, I have been given inspiration from the psalms as to how I might best frame a difficult situation. At other times, I have found consolation and peace when I needed it. Then there are the times when the psalms of praise give me just the right words to thank our good God.
Below is a selection of psalms for different occasions. Use this list, or thumb through your own Bible. What psalm is your favorite? Mine is Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd…” It has given me comfort, hope, and cause for much thanksgiving at various times in my life. It is a mainstay that keeps me going and reminds me of the Lord’s care for me. And you? What is your favorite psalm? Do share!
PSALM OF COMFORT
PSALMS OF DELIVERANCE
PSALMS FOR LACK of FAITH
PSALM OF FORGIVENESS
PSALMS OF HOPE AND CONFIDENCE
PSALMS OF PROTECTION
PSALMS FOR SADNESS & SORROW
PSALMS FOR HELP IN TIMES OF TROUBLE
PSALMS and AFFIRMATIONS FOR WORRY, ANXIETY AND ANGUISH
by Sr. Mary Martha, FSP
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