Reflections on Praying with Psalms

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Psalms play a significant role in Christian worship.

As a cantor in the Roman Catholic church, even though I have led congregations in Responsorial Psalms during Mass for years, I struggle with making Psalms a meaningful part of my prayer life. Therefore, I am sharing the following notes on Praying with Psalms that I gathered during the process of promoting the last WHY@Breakfast presentation, from the brilliant presentation by Prof. Andrea Di Giovanni, and from questions and comments made by participants last Saturday. I hope these notes will help shed off years from others’ struggles in praying with Psalms.

 

Responsorial Psalm during Mass never got my attention as much as the other readings would. Readings from other books of the Bible often tell simple stories and lessons.  One may easily mindlessly participate in singing the Responsorial Psalm, where the lines are taken from a few verses of a much longer Psalm, and feel that, perhaps, one is on a break between readings. As a cantor, I was told one time at a workshop, to always read the entire Psalm to get the full picture when preparing to lead the congregation into responding at Mass.  That advice is helpful for me to make sense of the few lines that I proclaim at the Ambo.   Still, praying with Psalms is not something that I embraced readily.

There were a few points I learned from the wisdom of Prof. Di Giovanni that I found most helpful to keep in mind.  I would also like to add my interpretation on some of them here.

  1. Jesus and the early Christians used Psalms as the backbone of their prayers! In fact, Jesus’ last words on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from Mt 27:46 or “It is finished.” from Jn 19:30) came from the Psalms. Others have suggested that the lines in Mary’s Magnificat came from various Psalms that Mary knew by heart. So, it should be quite an honour to read/sing Psalms as Jesus and his disciples would have done! In fact, I think one might get goosebumps thinking about this while joining in the Responsorial Psalms during Mass!
  2. Many Psalms speak of coming before God’s presence in the House of the Lord. When the Temple built by Solomon was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews could no longer make sacrifices at the Temple but they continued using Psalms as their way of prayer. So, making Psalms our daily prayer means following that tradition to come before God’s presence.
  3. The Psalms were chanted to accompany certain rites at the Temple. Specifically, they would accompany the actions of animal sacrifices. Nowadays, the Psalms became sacrificial offering of the words themselves. So, how would you make your sacrifice? Perhaps, you might sing loudly during the responses to the Psalm at Mass? That’s your sacrifice!
  4. The Psalms are infused with “body language” for a reason. Parts of the vocal apparatus are often mentioned in Psalms. References such as “my lips will glorify you”, “my mouth will declare your praise”, “my throat is parched”, “I cry with my voice”, etc., can be found throughout the book of Psalms. Other parts of the body are also mentioned. For example, we have “my back is filled with searing pain”, “my loins are full of inflammation”, “I spread out my hands to you”, “my arms can bend a bronze bow”, etc. All these examples might be making a point that we are supposed to let the prayers sink into every part of our body. It’s not just an intellectual exercise to read Psalms but we ought to let every cell of our body savor it! I might be biased, but singing allows the sound wave to vibrate each of the cells in your body and it is a good way to let your body feel the Psalms!
  5. Psalms were understood to be chanted aloud. When Hannah prayed silently with her lips moving and not making a sound, no one could blame Eli the priest for thinking that she was drunk! (1 Samuel 1:13) Now, no one will accuse you for being drunk at church if you don’t join in and sing the Psalms, but why would you not sing Psalms when they were meant to be sung?
  6. As a book in the Bible, Psalms are words of God. To let the words of God come out of your own body to praise God is to let God move through you to communicate with God, as Jesus communicates with His Father! That is, we actually allow ourselves to be the body of Christ!
  7. The various types of Psalms cover our usual moments in our daily living (praise, thanksgiving, laments, joy and hope after laments, etc). So, why not let Psalms accompany us in our daily prayer? As Prof. Di Giovanni said, all we need is to re-understand Psalms in our own context to make them meaningful. In fact, one participant on Saturday made a comment on how it could be so upsetting to read the daily news and suggested that we have our Book of Psalms handy whenever we watch the news!

 

Much more information was gained on the weekend, and other participants will probably have their own understanding of their favorite part of the presentation, but I hope you will benefit from these notes here. These points already let me enjoy praying with Psalms more and give me new ideas on praying with Psalms.

Spring Cleaning on Ash Wednesday

It is a tradition to do a thorough “Spring Cleaning” prior to Chinese New Year. It is most auspicious to have a clean and organized house so as to have a great start for a New Year.   I am thinking that, perhaps, Ash Wednesday will be a perfect day for Spring cleaning! I just read that Lent is an opportunity to put my spiritual house in order.    If so, we begin to tidy up God’s dwelling place on Ash Wednesday.  Spring Cleaning on Ash Wednesday will mean that we start the process of tidying up both externally and internally. With hope, the visible sign of the state of each room in our house will give us our reality check on each spiritual focus of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

What would you put in the stocking for Jesus?

 

Jesus' stocking

 

I have been feeling particularly rushed in all the regular Christmas preparation this year.  For this short Advent season, it seems difficult to focus on what is really important.  As always, songs have a way to speak to me and make me pause.  As I was singing along to the Christmas piece “In the Bleak Midwinter”, I found myself in a sudden pause at the fourth verse:

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The words made me think of my relationship with the Christ Child. The words made me think about what I would give him if I were meeting him by his crib.  For those of us who are parents, as we go about helping Santa putting smiles on the children’s faces on Christmas morning, how would you help Santa decide on what to put in the stocking for Jesus?

 

May the remaining time of Advent of yours be one filled with hope, and that your Christmas season be one filled with joy and peace!

 

“One Bread, One Body” – where did the bread come from?

According to St. Augustine, where did the bread come from?

From St. Augustine’s Sermon 272: (http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm)

Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.” 

That is, we, the baptized, are baked into one big loaf of bread!

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Truth and Unity

Truth & Unity

When I was at the University of Waterloo studying Mathematics, there were students and professors of all different nationalities, different skin colours, speaking different languages. No one seemed to notice that, however. It was the usual scene in the hallways and classrooms of the Mathematics and Computer building.  I only started noticing more of the diversity among the university population when I moved off campus as a graduate student.  In my building, I would meet neighbours in the elevator. They would see this Asian girl and assumed that I might not know English. I didn’t blame them.  Back then, the Oriental population in town was not that big, especially when we excluded those on the university campus.  Of course, the scene has changed drastically in the last few decades, first with the expansion of RIM (now Blackberry) and recently as the hub for startups and software companies.

The point is that, at the university, we were studying Mathematics, which to a lot of people, translated to “truths”. In Mathematics, one logical conclusion leads to another logical conclusion, no expression of personal interpretation is involved. Therefore, there is no chance of offending anyone’s cultural background or tradition, and there is no chance of breaking expectations as there were no expectations other than telling the truth! The language that all mathematicians use in their discussions on any mathematical topic is unified by a set of symbols and numbers. Mathematicians know that the relationships among mathematical structures are there to be “discovered”,  and not “created.” We may make use of properties of certain mathematical structures to create systems that we may use for our advantage in our daily lives, but we do not actually create these basic relationships. We put labels on them with our numbers and symbols and we describe them with operations like addition and subtraction. This studying of the truth, the seeking of the truth, allows the mathematics community to embrace diversity among themselves.

Now, the question that we ought to ask ourselves as Christians is:  If we all believe in the same God whom we call the “Truth”, and that our churches all help us to seek God and build our relationships in “The Truth”, why would it be difficult for some of us and our churches to embrace our diversity?

An Insight of God’s love in Math

Whenever I mentioned that I see God in Mathematics, people always shrugged and commented that one shouldn’t define God with Mathematics, or reduce God to numbers. That’s like saying one shouldn’t talk about God in their language, or describe God in words!

Mathematics is a language itself. If we believe that we are born in the image of God, then our logic that leads to the development of all languages or subjects came from the same source.  Therefore, while it is only logical that some prefers writing about God in traditional languages, I enjoy connecting our concepts of God to what I learn in Mathematics.

 

So, this morning I read a blogpost http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.ca/2017/04/099999999-is-equal-to-1000000.html that explains that 0.99999999…is equal to 1.

 

As the article suggests, thinking of subtracting 0.99999……..from 1 gives us 0.  That is, 0.00000…….   is  0.

Intuitively, our minds, however,  think of the “1” at the end of a very, very long string of “0”s in 0.000000000……

Here is the neat little insight: We can never pin point where that “1” is anymore at the end of the string of 0’s. Is there an end to the string at all? If you look at the “0”s as God’s infinite love for us that push away our sins, or how He forgives us of our sins, you will understand that the “1” sin you committed only carries in your mind, but not God’s. He forgives you when you ask for it, so why can’t you let it go yourself?