Praying the Psalms: Introduction and Suggestions

The life of faith consists of seasons. One scholar suggests that we can categorize these seasons of life as seasons of being securely oriented, painfully disoriented, and surprisingly reoriented. These generalizations could apply to our self-acceptance, our relations to significant others, and our participation in public or private life. We might think about these seasons as passages of life, stages of growth, or even identity crises. Acknowledging where we find ourselves in a particular season can allow us to be honest about where we are at in our lives and where we are in relation to God.

The Psalms, a collection of prayers, songs, and poems addressed to God, correspond to these seasons of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. As we read through the book, we find Psalms where the writer is full of thanksgiving to God, securely oriented in life. We also find Psalms that demonstrate disorientation, perhaps categorized by loss, transition, grief, suffering, or even anger. Finally, some Psalms are written from a perspective of reorientation, wherein the Psalmist transitions from a period of being disoriented to being reoriented in relation to God and others.

The Psalms can become our partner in prayer. Giving us words when we have none, we pray the Psalms joining with all those who have prayed them before us and all who will pray them after we are gone. As we pray the Psalms, we find permission to be utterly honest with God about our feelings and situation, free to speak openly and deeply to God about what we are experiencing. Praying the Psalms also helps us to envision God’s future when we can’t see it ourselves. Lastly, the Psalms guard us against religion or merely thinking about God. Using their words in prayer brings us into direct conversation with the living God, in language we may never have imagined would come from our lips.

Ideas for how to pray the Psalms:

-Pray a Psalm of Orientation:
Take a moment to pause and slow down
Pray the Psalm as a prayer of thanksgiving
Following your prayer, offer your own words of thanksgiving to God
-Pray the assigned Psalm from the daily lectionary, with set Scriptures to read each day. Click here to see today’s readings, subscribe to the daily readings by email, or download the app.
-Pray the Psalms using the practice of praying in color. Click here for an excerpt from Sybil MacBeth’s book that gives instructions for praying in color. I have the book available if anyone would like to borrow it. You can read more about praying in color on her website.
-Pray a Psalm, followed by journal writing. Consider these prompts: Where do I find myself in this Psalm? Where do I find my community? How am I being oriented to God in this prayer? What images or metaphors do I find striking? Explore the image more deeply.
-Pray the Psalms as you pray the hours with the Book of Common Prayer
-Pray through a list of Psalms, one per day or the same one each day for a week.
-Pray them as a family or with housemates at mealtime or bedtime.
-Pray abbreviated Psalms as breath prayers. A breath Ppayer rhythm is simple: Breathe in slow and deep as you whisper or think on a phrase… Hold your breath… Then exhale.
Abbreviated Psalms of Orientation:
Psalm 145: Praise the Lord, my soul; I will praise the Lord in my life,
I will sing to my God as long as I am.
Psalm 8: Lord, our master, how great is your name in all the earth.
Psalm 104: Seek the Lord and his power; seek his face forever. Remember the wonders he has done.
-Pray the Psalms using lectio divina. For instructions on praying lectio divina individually or in groups, click here. There are also instructions for doing lectio divina in color from Sybil MacBeth’s book.
-Pray a Psalm from the category of life within which you find yourself—orientation, disorientation, or reorientation.

Here is a list of example Psalms for prayer from different categories:

Psalms of Orientation: These Psalms reflect a confident belief that the world is well ordered, reliable, and life-giving to the person of faith.
Psalm 1 Psalm 111
Psalm 8 Psalm 112
Psalm 14 Psalm 119
Psalm 33 Psalm 131
Psalm 37 Psalm 133
Psalm 104 Psalm 145

Psalms of Disorientation: These Psalms reflect the brokenness of life, when it is no longer orderly but savage. Spoken out of the depths, they are still bold acts of faith.
Psalm 13 Psalm 79
Psalm 22 Psalm 81
Psalm 32 Psalm 86
Psalm 35 Psalm 88
Psalm 50 Psalm 130
Psalm 51 Psalm 137
Psalm 73 Psalm 143
Psalm 74

Psalms of New Orientation: The pit is not the end of life; there is more. New orientation Psalms reflect the surprise of new possibilities that are experienced as pure gift from God. They are full of thanks.
Psalm 23 Psalm 100
Psalm 27 Psalm 103
Psalm 30 Psalm 113
Psalm 34 Psalm 117
Psalm 40 Psalm 124
Psalm 65 Psalm 135
Psalm 66 Psalm 138
Psalm 91 Psalm 150

Citations: The Message of the Psalms and Praying the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann and Getting Involved with God, by Ellen Davis.

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