“Perfection belongs to an imaginary world. According to traditional teaching, it is the life-embedded soul, not soaring spirit, that defines humanity.”
— Thomas Moore
One reason the psalms still speak to us in the 21st century, and don’t read as some kind of archaic anthropology of faith, is that we are still working out our salvation between heaven and earth. We are still human creatures who are earthbound, incarnated for good reason, and summoned to our soul work. The psalms, with their double awareness of a numinous vision and our muddied versions of it, serve as an antidote to pitfalls on the path such as premature transcendence, spiritual bypass, or high level denial.
An example of this grounded-ness is Psalm 4, the Benedictine night prayer, sung by monks during compline. In the following walk-through, let us see how it serves to counteract tendencies to unhealthy perfectionism, whereby goodness has to be earned under the tyranny of the idealized self. At the end of each day, as “successful” as it might have been, growing persons are painfully aware and yet self-forgiving of the gap between who they are and who they could be.
— When I call, answer me, O God of justice, from anguish you released me, have mercy and hear me!
God is not a projected emblem of a superior “spiritual” self, whereby we surpass limitations on our own steam. God listens to those who have already gotten their souls dirty.
— You rebels, how long will your hearts be closed, will you love what is futile and seek what is false?
We seem to be an experimental species, neither animal nor angel but a strange mixture, so it’s natural to be torn between the two and pursue illusions of the ego, i.e. Edging God Out.
— It is the Lord who grants favours to those whom he loves, the Lord hears me whenever I call him.
Grace takes the place of strategies for happiness, whenever I can surrender those.
— Fear him; do not sin; ponder on your bed and be still. Make justice your sacrifice and trust in the Lord.
When hopes are dashed against the harsh realities of this world, let us let go and let God.
— “What can bring us happiness?” many say. Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.
That’s a beautiful way of saying it’s the wrong question. Life and light are never our own.
— You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from abundance of corn and new wine.
We try to fill a God-shaped void with all the addictions luring us away from true presence.
— I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for you alone Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Hope and hopelessness compete; wholeness and woundedness co-exist; love and fear have their tugs; yet we trust . . . that even in self-division, we are held by a much bigger embrace.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series entitled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via email@example.com