“And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him…” ~ Mark 3:14a
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” ~ Revelation 21:3
We were created to be with God and our existence is to be one of abiding communion in him. It forms the bookends of scripture, being embodied in the Edenic picture of God walking with man in the cool of the day, and then forms telos of redemption where the Lord eternally dwells with man. In the space between there is Christ, the word who became flesh and dwelt among us. In Christ we find not only our way back to God, but the perfect vision of what a life with God looks like, a life we are being invited into with Jesus.
Yet our world is one of confusion and chaos, hardship and struggle. Busyness grows exponentially and often we find ourselves struggling to know how to live life with the God who invites us to call him Immanuel, God with us. The challenge is then how do we live out the truth that Christ promises to be with us.
A great place to begin this journey of learning to be with Jesus is in the Psalms. Apart from being the prayer book of Israel and the Church, the Psalms found their words on the lips and tongue of Jesus more than any other book of scripture. In the Psalms we then find:
The Language of Communion - The Psalms teach us how both be with God, but also how to speak to God. They give us permission to be honest with ourselves, our circumstances, and with God himself.
The Totality of the Human Experience - The Psalms also let us know that the totality of the human experience is part of our sacred journey with God. It is not only the set asides times that God is attentive to, but the whole of who we are. It speaks to our failures and brokenness, but also to God’s faithful love and the joy that is ours in him. In the Psalms we find permission to lament and cry out, to extol and proclaim, and to find the one who promises to never leave us or forsake us.
Taken from the Benedictine tradition, where the Psalms have been prayed weekly for nearly 1500 years, we have adapted them to a monthly reading plan that has morning, midday, and evening readings. Psalms that are prayed within the Benedictine tradition daily have been kept with some greater regularity. As we do these monthly readings it is also important to remember the following:
Daily Engagement - While our lives and schedules may not allow for the full engagement of the readings each day (generally 9-10 Psalms; about 30 minutes of total reading daily), being daily in the Psalms, even if we can only read one that day, allows us to grow together in being with Christ.
Consistency - The goal is not perfection, but consistency. This is a practice of learning to habitually come before God, realizing that in Christ he has already come to us and is present. If a time is missed it is important to remember that the purpose of this study is not to check a box off a list or merely get through the Psalms monthly, but to be with God. There is no merit in this process so be gracious with yourself with the goal of growing in your ability to be with God, who in his love and mercy is already present to you.
Prayer - At their core the Psalms are prayers, the prayers of individuals and of the people of God. It is important for us to approach them as such. We have been trained to read analytically, yet the Psalms are lyrical and poetic, inviting us to not just read them, but to experience them. To help combat our tendency towards reading them analytically, it can be helpful to read the Psalms aloud, even if doing so by one’s self. This slows them down and allows the heart to hang onto each word spoken out loud, finding the cadence and rhythm of the Psalm and discovering the emotions of each prayer.
Mindfulness - We must grow in our awareness of what these readings and this process stirs up within us. For some the emotive nature of the Psalms may bring up painful and challenging memories, areas of our heart and life that we have not yet learned to bring to Jesus or may still need his healing presence to touch. That can at times feel overwhelming and cause us to be anxious. For others this can be a source of joy and a gift, giving words to experiences and feelings and thus be a source of a relief. Remember that as we journey together in the Psalms that our collective experience will be shaped by our individual experiences.
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"You know very well, my brother, that someone who wants to set out on a long journey will first of all examine himself, and then he will attach himself to other travellers with whom he is able and willing to keep up; otherwise he may get left behind by his companions on the journey and come to harm. It is exactly the same with a person who wants to travel the road to righteousness. First of all let him look into himself and see how strong he is, then let him choose a way of life that is appropriate for himself. It is better to begin from one's feeble state and end up strong, to progress from small things to big, than to set your heart from the very first on the perfect way of life, only to have to abandon it later, -- or keep to it solely out of habit, because of what others will think -- in which case all this labour will be is vain.
Anyone who wishes to embark on the labours of the virtuous life should train himself gently, until he finally reaches the perfect state. Do not be perplexed by the many paths trodden by our Fathers of old, each different from the other; do not zealously try to imitate them all: this would only upset your way of life. Rather, choose a way of life that suits your feeble state; travel on that, and you will live, for your Lord is merciful and he will receive you, not because of your achievements, but because of your intention, just as he received the destitute woman's gift." ~ Evagrius