I’ve incorporated the psalms into my daily prayer practice in a more intentional way. The monastics pray the entire psalter weekly or monthly; I’m content with two to three psalms per day; four if they’re short. There are 150 psalms in the psalter (151 if you use the Apocrypha), so that will keep me going for a couple of months. This week, I hit Psalm 119.
Psalm 119 is a devotional prayer on the Word of God. Every verse, save three, uses one of eight words for the Word – Torah, statute, precept, command, law, ordinance, decree, word. It’s a structured acrostic poem of 176 verses in 22 stanzas, each stanza beginning with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In other words, if you read the psalm aloud in Hebrew, each line of a stanza starts with the same sound. Even if you can’t read or chant Hebrew, it looks really cool:
Psalm 119 is the speed bump of the psalter. It teaches us to slow down, take our foot off the gas, and step out of the fast lane of life. In our frenzied world of instant communication and high-speed transportation, where everything moves at the speed of sound and light, Psalm 119 helps us to slow down in our listening and praying. It bids us to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Word instead of gulping it like a morning cup of coffee. It slows our conversation with God from a winded sprint to a leisurely garden stroll in the cool of the day, giving us time to ponder the many facets of the Word. Eugene Peterson compared meditation on the Word to having a lozenge slowly dissolve in your mouth. Our tendency is to crunch it and move on to the next flavor.
We hurry far too much for our own spiritual health and well-being. We race through the Creed and the Our Father as though they were on speed dial. We anxiously glance at our watches when the preacher goes beyond his allotted fifteen minutes or when the liturgy exceeds the agreed upon sweet hour of prayer. And that sweet hour of prayer gets attenuated to a few hurried minutes in our daily discipline. We are always rushing to the next thing and through the place where we are. Psalm 119 with its assonances and alliterations, its redundancies and repetitions, reminds us that children of the Light and the Day are never in a hurry.
Come to think of it, the whole notion of dividing the “day” into 24 hours or 1440 minutes or 86,000 seconds has done us more spiritual harm than good. When a day becomes 24 hours, there is no longer a day sufficient for our cares and anxieties. God gave us the day for work and the night for sleep, with evening and morning for prayer. There’s no need to rush through time when eternity is already ours.