As I discover the Psalms anew, I am reminded of St. Augustine’s saying about the Church: “late have I loved thee.” When I was younger, see, and when I thought I knew everything, I used to skip these sacred, inspired, and often times prophetic, poems.
Nowadays, I turn to them and find comfort and instruction.
A few days ago I shared a kind letter that Thomas Merton wrote a 6th grader, and noted that being kind is one of the traits of a Christian. I have written also on being meek, and how John C.H. Wu has helped me see that character trait in a more positive, and more approachable light.
Below is a sample of what I mean. It is Psalm 15 written by David. As psalms go, it is a short one. The kind that readily lends itself to lectio divina, and even simple memorization. Short, and yet full of practical wisdom for walking along the Way. Keep in mind that this is the Holy Spirit speaking to us, in an informal question and answer session,
A psalm of David.
LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy mountain?
Are not these questions key? Because once you come to the realization that you are one of God’s children, you wonder if you are worthy of such a position. What must I do to be a child of the Most High? The Holy Spirit answers,
Whoever walks without blame,
doing what is right,
speaking truth from the heart;
Who does not slander a neighbor,
does no harm to another,
never defames a friend;
So far, so good until I realize that I have slipped in all of these areas. Yes, I can look in the mirror and note that even I have slandered a friend in the past, not to mention those whom I have disagreed with who were not my friends. And often I used the text from the next few lines as my self-righteous reason why,
Who disdains the wicked,
but honors those who fear the LORD;
Of course, to do this honestly, and justly, I find that I must disdain myself before I turn the spotlight on others. I remember a line from Psalm 14, “Not one does what is right, not even one.” Yes, I recall painfully, this “one” is definitely me. And in the next line, as I recoil in horror, the Holy Spirit reminds me not to flee from the responsibility of self-examination. Because I must be one,
Who keeps an oath despite the cost,
and one who
lends no money at interest,
instead of always asking “what’s in it for me?” whenever I am asked to help, or give of my time, talents, and scanty treasure. And all the while, though I like to think that I would never do such a thing, I must remember to be one who
accepts no bribe against the innocent.
By this point, the realization dawns that alone, left to my own self-interest, I will fail in keeping any of these seemingly simple precepts. Instead, I will be doing what Qoheleth observed when he was inspired to write,
Then I saw that all toil and skillful work is the rivalry of one man for another. This also is vanity and a chase after wind.
Despite the best intentions of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Coming back, then, to the conclusion of this psalm, I know that only through God’s grace will I be one who can be counted as one that,
Whoever acts like this
shall never be shaken.
Do you know why I don’t spend much intellectual horsepower in this space writing about the “big questions” of the day? It is because all of the big questions have been answered already. As Christ Himself said, on more than one occasion, “He that has ears, let him hear.” What is left to do, and one which takes a lifetime to perfect, is the implementation of the answers. In simple terms, and on a personal level, stop spinning your wheels and get going.
Thinking through the Psalms allows me to hear the answers to what I so deftly ignored for so long. And that is, the Church has the answers, even as we Church members falter in following Her precepts. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, instructs us to pray the Psalms and provides them for us in a format that is suitable for this purpose.
As for me and this blog, with the help of God’s grace, I’ll just continue to stay on this narrow,and winding, pilgrims path. Because though I once worshipped my prideful self, now I remind myself often to pray,
LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.
With an understanding that, “there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”
Update: Peter Kreeft agrees.