Pray the Psalms

Savor those words; relish, consume, drink them in, be nourished by them.

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Pray the psalms. Photo by Michael Petersheim, Thinkstock.

Today's guest blogger is Fr. Austin Fleming, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston.

I’m not a big fan of country music, but I often check out the local country music station while driving. It’s not the tunes as much as the lyrics that grab me.

Country songs are real: their vocabulary is simple, the imagery never bland. Country music deals with the real stuff of real people’s lives: love, heartbreak, joy, jealousy, suffering, hope, grief, loneliness, trust.

A song may not fit where my heart is today but it helps me remember a day when it did, or brings to mind a friend for whom the lyrics would be perfect.

The Bible’s psalms do the same work in my heart. Like country songs, the psalms are real. Their simple vocabulary supports imagery as real as the tears on my cheek, the ache in my heart, the depths of my spirit, and the joy for which I pray and long.

Like country music, the psalms sing lyrics of love freely given, trust broken, thoughts of hopelessness, affections alienated, betrayal forgiven, hurt mended, hope restored, peace brokered and joy reborn.

They rise up from our very relationship with God, the first and ultimate lover of us all, and overflow into our relationship with our neighbors.

When asked why I pray the psalms, my best response is that the psalms pray me. If I give myself to the psalms, they give themselves to me and sing their lyrics into my heart with harmony and dissonance that can’t help but connect to my own experience, providing I’m open to sharing my soul’s story with the word.

Like so much of scripture, the psalms open deeper and wider in proportion to my understanding of them. But like the whole of scripture, the biblical word itself can and will speak to me on its own, so powerful is the Spirit moving in those ancient texts.

A centuries-old and trusted approach to praying with God’s Word may help you pray the psalms. Take a few deep breaths, a few moments to settle down from the day’s busyness.

Now, go to Psalm 4. Read through it, slowly, two or three times. Don’t try to “understand” it but let the psalm understand you, and your day and its story.

On a third or even fourth reading, stop at a verse or phrase–even just a word–that connects with your heart and echoes in your soul.

Stay with those words and repeat them, either silently or aloud. Let them become a kind of mantra for prayer. Allow yourself to be drawn in by the scripture: let it become part of you and you become one with it.

Savor those words; relish, consume, drink them in, be nourished by them. Let the words work their way into you, your prayer and your day.

You might stay with those words for your whole time in prayer or you might move on to another verse or phrase or word. Go where the Spirit leads you.

Then take some time to speak to the Lord from what you’ve experienced in your prayer. Make some silent time (on your lips, in your thoughts, in your heart) to see what the Lord might whisper to you.

Remember or write down the words you prayed to carry with you in your heart or in your pocket: carry those words with you through the rest of the day–and let them carry you.

Austin Fleming is a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and serves as pastor of Holy Family Parish in Concord, MA.  The author of several books on liturgy, he blogs on spirituality and prayer at

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