Saturday, February 2, 2008

As though they were our own words...

In some of my rare moments of free time I have been reading St. Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus. The letter concerns mainly the Psalms, one of my favorite parts of Scripture, and I think what I read the other day in this text is one of the best and truest statements about the Psalms I have ever seen:

There is also this astonishing thing in the Psalms. In other books, those who read what the holy ones say, and what they might say concerning certain people, are relating the things that were written about those earlier people. And likewise, those who listen consider themselves to be other than those about whom the passage speaks, so that they only come to the imitation of the deeds that are told to the extent that they marvel at them and desire to emulate them. By contrast, however, he who takes up this book – the Psalter – goes through the prophecies about the Savior, as is customary in the other Scriptures, with admiration and adoration, but the other psalms he recognizes as being his own words. And the one who hears is deeply moved, as though he himself were speaking, and is affected by the words of the songs, as if they were his own songs. And for the sake of clarity of expression, do not hesitate, as the Apostle says, to repeat the very things they say…

…remarkably, after the prophecies about the Savior and the nations, he who recites the Psalms is uttering the rest as his own words, and each sings them as if they were written concerning him, and he accepts them and recites them not as if another were speaking, nor as if speaking about someone else. But he handles them as if he is speaking them from himself. For not as in the case of the sayings of the patriarchs and Moses and the other Prophets will he be cautious of these things, but he who chants these will be especially confident in speaking what is written as if his own and about him. For the Psalms comprehend the one who observes the commandment as well as the one who transgresses, and the action of each. And it is necessary for everyone to be constrained by these, and either as a keeper of the law or as its transgressor, to speak the words that have been written about each.

I remember how years ago when I began praying the Psalms how I was often amazed by the fact that the Psalm put into words what I needed to say to God so much better than anything I could come up with. What a wonderful thing it is that in the middle of God’s Word we have this prayer-book for His people through which we can praise our Maker and receive much blessing from him.

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