Paz and the sisters at midday prayer

Having a hard time with the psalms

Paz Vital, OSB Little notes from a prairie journey, Living in Community 9 Comments

At the monastery we pray the psalms three times a day during the Liturgy of the Hours. At morning and evening prayer, we pray two psalms each, one singing and another recited, at midday we recite a psalm. This is a total of five psalms a day, which is a lot for me.

Paz and the sisters at midday prayer

Since I can remember, back in Mexico, I used to attend mass every single Sunday and I never heard a psalm that asked God for the punishment of the wicked or to kill and banish my enemies from the earth. When I first moved to Houston and heard this version of the psalms, this struck me hard. Can we ask God, who is all love and compassion, to do unholy things on our behalf? I was taught in Sunday mass and catechism that God wants us to have a pure heart, to be good in action and thought. So how can I ask God, The Holy One, The Mighty One, to kill or banish anybody from the earth? This just does not make sense to me.

I first heard these psalms in Houston, and I thought the problem was my bad English comprehension. But no, I was not the only one that found the psalms disturbing. One day at the Conspire class that Brooke Summers-Perry leads at the Methodist church, people talked about rewriting a psalm. That opened my eyes. We can rewrite the psalms using inclusive and actual language that could make sense with our cultural experiences and knowledge. After all, science has changed the way we understand the whole universe and ourselves. At one class, Brooke gave us four psalms and asked us to choose one and write our own version. This is my re-written version of Psalm 72:

Give the gift of wisdom and compassion
to the peoples, O Beloved,
the gift of mercy to all generations!

May the people be known
for mercy and compassion,
rendering love and equity to all.
May the poverty disappear!

Let their spirits soar as the eagle;
let joy abide in every heart!
May we work hard to make the suffering
and the inequity disappear,
rendering love and equity to all.
May oppression disappear!

May we spend more time in meditation
before we give counsel!

Blessed be the Beloved,
The one, who brings happiness
and freedom to the people,
The one who guides us along the way.

Blessed be you, who come in name of love;
May your glory fill the whole Universe!

Amen and Amen

Since I arrived at Holy Wisdom Monastery last June, I have given myself the task of reading a psalm every day. I read a psalm every morning at breakfast, and try to rewrite it, or just highlight the word or sentence that resonates in my heart that day. This is my version of Psalm 66, thinking in the refugees and displaced persons, especially the Syrians.

Psalm for the Syrian people to God

Hear my voice O God, in my complaint;
preserve my people from the dread enemy.
Hide me from the secret plot of ISIS,
and the wrath of the people of France,

From the scheming of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows;
shooting from ambush at the blameless.

They hold fast to their evil purpose.
They play the victim to kill innocent people.

Who can protect us, O God?
My people suffer, our women are raped.
Our boys killed as dogs in the street.

Hear my voice O God, in my complaint;
Preserve the Syrian people,
the innocent, from the dread enemy.

I don’t clamor for revenge, O God.
I clamor for your love, please stop the pain.

We are forced to leave our country;
we are refugees that nobody wants.
We are the victims of the evildoers,
but people around the world
see us like the enemy.

We Syrians, aren’t we your children?
Why do you abandon us?

Restore my people, O God,
so we can pray freely your name
in our home, in the place
where our parents were born
and the parents of our parents worshiped you.

I am learning a lot about the way people thought and related to God two thousand years ago. And I think that we human beings are growing a lot in our understanding of God and ourselves. That doesn’t mean we do not need to continue growing. I would like to think that maybe in some hundreds of years, hopefully not thousands, one person will read my psalm version and would think “My God, how primitive was the relationship of that person with God.” I would like to think this person will think in this way because she/he will have a deeper knowledge and a closer relationship with God.


Read this post in Spanish. Para seguir a paz en español: Viviendo momentos difíciles con los salmos

Read more from Paz in her blog series, Little notes from a prairie journey.

Comments 9

  1. Thanks for sharing how the psalms have come to have an important part of your spiritual journey.
    In her book,”Pleading, Cursing, Praising” Sr Irene Nowell quotes a Benedictine she had as a teacher, “It is so good to be a Benedictine. The Psalms just soak into your bones.”

  2. Thank you Paz for sharing your presence and the evidence of God’s presence with you bringing to our awareness the plight of those among us who are suffering etc. I like your practice and I am sure in 200 yrs your psalms will continue to be a springboard for deeper prayer.

  3. So beautiful, Paz. I will pray your re writes often and hope to see more. My own words are so inadequate and you express what I mean to say. Thank you for the gift.

  4. Paz,
    I have been using “Give Us This Day” for daily prayer for a couple of years. It contains three psalms a day. The psalms have been the least favorite part of my prayer and the ones that I have the most trouble really attending to without just rattling off. I am uncomfortable with the militaristic and “woe is me” language. But as you say, with daily rubbing against them, the psalms have begun to by-pass my brain and sink into my bones. Re-writing a psalm to make it more compassionate and inclusive is a brilliant idea. Thank you.
    Peace from Guthrie, MN

  5. Dear Candy,

    It is so nice to hear that I am not alone in this anti-non inclusive psalms. we all should re-write the psalms!

    Love, Paz

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