The Psalms mirroring our lives 

Sarah Larkin writes:SarahLarkin 2016

In Hebrew the word ‘psalm’ means ‘praises’. The Greek Psalmoi can mean ‘songs sung to a harp’. It is striking to me that every human experience seems to be conveyed in these 150 songs – especially sorrow and pain, as well as thanksgiving and praise.
The Christian monk John Cassian (360-435) taught that the Psalms were a gateway to a form of prayer where the soul pours itself out to God. He said of the Psalms:

The Psalms are our own. If we penetrate deeply into the thinking of the Psalms, we will then sing them as if we ourselves had written them - our own private prayer uttered from the depths of our heart.

Psalms evoke memories. The sacred words stir memories within us, remembrances of the daily trials, the costs of our negligence or the profits of our zeal, the good things of providence and the deceits of the enemy.

The Psalms mirror our lives. The Psalms are not like things we have to remember but, rather, things brought to birth in the depths of our hearts. We enter into their meaning because of what we ourselves have experienced. We see our own lives mirrored in them.

As a poet and facilitator of the creative process in others, I have developed a way to help people internalise the Psalms. Psalm Readings simply turn Psalms into questions – by answering the questions, you can write your own psalm. For example this is what Psalm 131 looks when turned into questions (the psalmists ‘answers’ are in brackets):
What is my heart not? (My heart is not proud)
What are my eyes not? (My eyes are not haughty)
What do I not do? (Involve myself in great matters or in things too difficult for me)
What do I do with my soul? (I have composed and quieted my soul)
What is my soul like? (Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me)
What does that cause me to do? (Hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever more)

What an interesting way to identity where you are on your spiritual journey. Here is an example of a contemporary response to Psalm 131:

My heart is not divided
My eyes are not veiled
I do not spend myself on the what does not satisfy
Held in the arms of night I have listened to my soul whispering to me
Taken aside, my soul is like a wise friend within me
I stand up straight, raise my hands and worship God

I will never forget the answer of one troubled young man to the question what is my soul like? He said, “My soul is like a blackened fig swinging on the branches of a tree”. I always say to people that the main thing when writing anything is not - is it any good? But rather is it truthful? 

It is also the case that every Psalm turns into different questions, and you answer the questions on different days and get different answers. So, by reading the Psalms today, we connect with God’s people throughout the ages, and see our own lives mirrored in the lament, thanksgiving and praise of life. Why not have a go at writing your own version of Psalm 131? Don’t think too much about your answers – go with what comes to you first and see what flows. You may be surprised by what emerges into the light of day.
Sarah Larkin (née Fordham) is a poet with three books published – Psalm Readings (2005), The Cool of the Day (2009) and Love’s First Look (2010). In 2015 she was the poet in residence for the CTE Forum..
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