Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | October 12, 2011

Now I have made a beginning…

One of the finer things of the Western Rite is the continuous engagement of worship with the Psalms. In the past year, my switch to the OCA and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has meant that my experience of the broader church has found this less accessible as part of my worship. So at last I’ve taken up working through the Psalter on my own. Frankly haven’t done this in a long time… like since back when I was an actual Anglican. Problem is my favorite Psalter, the handy small one from Holy Transfiguration Monastery, is divided into 20 Kathismas.

Now I don’t know just quite what a Kathisma is, but whatever it is, it’s too long for a working kind of a dude. And the given schedule of running through the whole in a week… ain’t happening. But the good news is that each Kathisma is in turn (in this publication) divided into thirds. Now we’re talking. Fact is, a third works about to almost the standard Morning/Evening Prayer three psalms I was used to. Working it out, if you take 20 K’s by thirds, you end up with 60 thirds. Amazingly, doing two-a-day gets you to that nice 30-day ish-month.  Since ish-months happen only five times a year, you have to come up with a plan for the six that are a day longer (easy) and the one that is two days shorter (unless it’s leap year). Standard practice used to be to repeat the 30th day on the 31st and just truncate February. Given that February cuts off only two days, we’re talking about four thirds, and you could easily add one third to each of the Sundays (or your pick of days) during the month to speed things to the end… if you happen to have that sort of compulsion or just can’t bring yourself to skip a day or two without the guilts. But the key is simply taking this thing one third Kathisma each morning and evening.

So far this month, it’s worked pretty well. I’m on track, and every now and again when I have the time and inclination, I pull out the old notebook and note down the few phrases from a session’s Psalms that stick with me. Once after reading through Archimandrite Zacharias’s (Essex) “Enlargement of the Heart”, I went through all the Psalms looking for variants of “englarged” and frankly was amazed how often it occurs. Same can be said indeed for many other phrases, and I think it helps switch our ever so analytic brains sometimes to note that yes, scripture is actually trying to point out something to us… over and over… but isn’t it amazing how if we are unattuned to its rhythms how we simply don’t notice them? They glide by  as just so much language under the dam. Indeed.

And yet there is a balance in any method of going through scripture between too much and too little. Do too much and it all just becomes words to be rushed through. Nothing adheres and there is no change. All we manage is another “accomplishment”. Yep. Tick down another one on the “Do List” and let’s move on. On the other hand, if you do too little, perhaps the passage is so short that day after day, nothing stands out and you begin to inculcate a similar sense of “nothing ever happens”. And yet like the poetry, the heart is deep. I find that if you come to this with an intent to find something, looking, listening, hearing yourself… being attentive not just to what your mind seems preoccupied with, but that here you stand preoccupied in the presence of God’s word, you cannot help but be humbled and begin to listen beyond yourself.

Yet I’d add that the presumption that we can know and observe the changes in ourselves is to miss the fact that so often changes in others happen before our eyes so gradually that unless we take a picture and compare it, the day-to-day familiarity blinds us to the momentous but natural course of our lives. A friend once told me that after her husband died quite suddenly as it seemed, she went back and looked at photos of him over his last year, and it was clear he was dying before her eyes… almost unobserved. She was heartbroken with how she had been preoccupied, and the treasured moments that were allowed to slip were something she now struggled to recover and recall.

We need not face the same thing, for before us on these pages lies an opportunity to focus on remembering God with our love, here and now… in these little things. We may not see the changes in ourselves, or even know how the words that seem to flow by affect us, but they do in ways we cannot even comprehend.

My soul refused to be comforted; I remembered God and I was gladdened; I spake in idleness and my spirit became faint-hearted. Mine eyes were wakeful before the watches; I was troubled and spake not. I thought upon the days of old, and the years of ages past I called to mind, and I meditated. By night I pondered in my heart, and my spirit searched diligently.

And I said: Now have I made a beginning; this change hath been wrought by the right hand of the Most High. I remembered the works of the Lord; for I will remember Thy wonders from the beginning. And I will meditate on all Thy works, and I shall ponder upon Thy ways.

O God, in the sanctuary is Thy way. What God is as great as our God? Thou art God Who workest wonders. Thou hast made Thy power known among the peoples; with Thine arm hast Thou redeemed Thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

In the sea are Thy byways, and Thy paths in many waters; and Thy footsteps shall not be known. Thou leddest Thy people as sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (taken from Psalm 76)

Glory to God for all His puzzles! May you find him not just in the Psalms, not just in the Church, but in the sanctuary where you worship with your heart (in all the places that may be) and in each other, that He may lead you along the hidden path, along the path through the seas… and wash your earthly cares behind your footsteps as you follow.


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