Psalm 95 (The Venite, but only to verse 7)

A while back, while I was rocking the baby to sleep, he could not settle down. The usual songs seemed only to agitate him, and I had gone through every song I could possibly think of - from Christmas carols (in August) to commercial jingles. I mean, everything. So, as I was just about to completely lose it (but not in a way that might get me an interview with Nancy - I'm a Mommy, Now- Grace), the Venite came into my head. I know...you know you're a priest when....

Now, when I was in seminary, I was one of the few people who actually went to Morning Prayer EVERY morning (as opposed to my beloved friends and co-bloggers, who went maybe a combined total of 12 times during their three years there). By the middle of my first year, I came to depend on this routine of going to the chapel for starting off my day. The version of the Venite that is in the Hymnal (S-35, for you Episcopalians out there) was one we sang on a relatively regular basis. It was one of the few service music pieces I knew by heart for morning prayer, and actually liked (and it DID NOT come from Wonder Love and Praise, thank God-I wouldn't want to admit that).

So, I started to sing this Venite to the baby. Kind of slowly and quietly. And about a third of the way through, he relaxed and by the end (it's not that long), he was asleep. Amazing. It actually calmed me down, too.

This Sunday, in the RCL, we will have the opportunity to read (or chant it as we do in our church) Psalm 95. I know I should know this, but for whatever reason I didn't realize the Venite we sing in Morning Prayer is not ALL of Psalm 95, just the first seven verses. (Give me a break, I am a life-long Episcopalian, who are amazed at, and I quote another life-long Episcopalian, "how much the Bible quotes the Book of Common Prayer".) Of course when you look at the last four verses, I guess you could see why. Here, I'll paste them below:
8 Harden not your hearts,
as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
at Meribah, and on that day at Massah,
when they tempted me.
9 They put me to the test, *
though they had seen my works.
10 Forty years long I detested that generation and said, *
"This people are wayward in their hearts;
they do not know my ways."
11 So I swore in my wrath, *
"They shall not enter into my rest."
I guess ending on a note of vengeance isn't the best way to begin the day in morning prayer. Ending with "Oh, that today you would harken to his voice!" seems much gentler. Maybe more pointed, but gentler.

But some days, maybe I'd want to start with vengeance. Especially on those days when I have fought my way through redneck, Nascar traffic to find myself being tailgated by a humongous Ford F150 with the license plate that reads, "RNDZ TOY." All I have done and want to do is swear in my wrath. Or on those days when it takes my husband 15 minutes to gently put our son down in his crib as he drifts off to sleep, when the night before it took me two hours of scratching and thrashing to put him in his bed and sneak out of the room. Maybe on those days I'd want to curse the people who make things hard, who spit in God's face - who spit in MY face. Maybe my prayers would be more authentic.

That's why I love the Psalms. They're REAL. My friend calls them "revenge poems". People crying out in agony, anger, frustration, loneliness, isolation. But also lifting their voices in genuine praise, glorifying God and singing. That's real. None of these platitudes that we preachers like to end our sermons on when we get stuck..."Oh forget whatever I just said and remember, God loves you." None of this crap that floats around (nice imagery) about how much better one side is over the other, or how so-and-so (read Gays) are going to hell. But real struggles with the world. Real wrestling with our relationship with God. How God is or isn't. How he fails us, how we fail him. How the world just seems so darn frustrating and pointless, and what is God doing about it anyway? A spiritual director of mine once told me the best way to pray is to read the Psalms because you can always find one that will hit you where you are. For the most part, I've found that to be true.

Well, that's my thought for the day. I hear the soft chorus of "Mama Mama Mama" coming from upstairs, which is my call. Happy Lent, everyone!


Doorman-Priest said...

"Revenge poems" is about right, but hearing yourself say them or sing them out loud helps to get it off your chest.

Malt Viquor said...

What? We had chapel in Seminary?

Not Your Mother in Heaven said...

What? You WENT to Seminary?

Doorman-Priest said...

Come on guys, get your act together. We want at least one post a week.