Friday, November 8, 2013

Singing in the Psalms as Resistance Tool and Scaffolding

I have written before about singing in the stairwells.  This post talks about the acoustics in my work stairwell and about the way my body opens up.  I wrote "When I need an uplift, I go to the stairwells and sing a note or a phrase, often from Compline or the line I learned at Mepkin Abbey: 'Oh, God, come to my assistance. Oh Lord, make haste to help me.'"

Those words came back to me a few weeks ago as I made my way to a meeting that promised to be particularly ugly.  I took a minute in the stairwell to sing that ancient Psalm.  Usually when I sing and ask God to come to my assistance, I'm not facing a particular threat.  That day a few weeks ago, I wanted protection.

I don't know if it was the singing or the specific words that made me feel instantly calm.  I sang those lines and stood up straighter.  I sang those lines and felt a certain assurance.

I'll be the first to admit that an ugly meeting at work is not as bad as situations that many believers have faced through the ages.  I knew that I'd be safe to a certain extent.  No one would throw me in a prison cell.  No hands would be laid on me.  I was fairly sure that I'd still be employed after the meeting.

Through the years, I've now been to many an ugly or painful meeting.  Often, I don't know in advance that the meeting will take that turn.  Perhaps I should prepare for every meeting as if it's going to be ugly.  I say this because going into the meeting that was sure to be ugly was such a different experience.  The words from various Psalms swirled in my head.  No matter what was said, the Psalms assured me that I need fear no evil.  The Psalms reminded me that I'm protected by a greater power who will not allow my soles to slip.  The Psalms reminded me of my worth, no matter what was being said in the meeting.

I was able to stay calm.  I didn't slide into self-defensiveness.  I explained my actions and the thought process behind them.  We talked in a general way about the issue of late work and excused and unexcused absences, and then we talked about possible approaches.  We talked about processes that used to be in place and the changes that would soon come barreling towards us.

The words of the Psalmist kept me steadied.  Beneath the backdrop of threatening possibilities, the Psalmist reminded me that no matter how deep and dark the valley and the swirling shadows, I didn't need to be overcome with fear.

I've noticed a similar steadying process during times when I can pray the liturgy of the hours throughout the day.  I used the fine work by Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours, and most of that liturgy is taken directly from the Psalms.  When I pray from that book periodically throughout the day, those words drive deep into my brain, and they resurface at odd and interesting times.  I like the way they scaffold my days.

Alas, I don't often pause to pray throughout my day.  I start the day with the morning prayers, but I don't usually return to the rest of the prayers.

It is time to return to that practice of praying the Psalms throughout the day.  I want those words always in the background, not just during times of trouble.

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