Sister Maribeth Howell, OP, lead a workshop on the psalms this past week, and she began by acknowledging that even though we pray the psalms regularly, they can feel distant. Over the course of the workshop, she talked about the history of the psalms and their relevancy to our lives today. We were also given time to pray and reflect individually, then share in small groups. As Sister Maribeth put it, both preaching (part of the Dominican charism) and faith-sharing were forms of “breaking open” the Word.
From listening to her insight and taking part in our table’s discussions, I was able to draw personal connections to the psalms and their context. For example, one of the significant periods in Israel’s history, the New Kingdom, could be described as the “glory days” of the Jewish people. Sister Maribeth explained that we have our own glory days in our lives, though for some of us, they may not have come yet. This, she went on to say, is one of the gifts of intergenerational living: we can share our diverse experiences with one another. I've come to appreciate this gift first-hand in my involvement with the Ursuline community. During faith-sharing, I felt so inspired listening to the stories the members at my table shared from their years in ministry and their own faith journeys. I was also grateful for the moments when I could share my own knowledge with them. During one of our free evenings, for instance, Sister Diane asked if I could help her download a few songs on her MP3 player so she could have music to listen to on her upcoming trip to Hungary. In each of our interactions, there are opportunities to learn from each other.
The psalms have the power to speak to us on an intimate level, but by nature, they are communal prayers that transcend our individual situations and give voice to the needs of all God’s people. As Sister Maribeth read from her copy of Dominican Praise, when we pray the psalms as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, we “leave our individual styles and preferences” of prayer and become “a people praying for the whole world.” We are praying for and with our brothers and sisters in faith. The concept seemed too abstract to even imagine, but during our morning prayers, I felt myself at the cusp of this great mystery. After praying the psalms, we paused for about twenty minutes of quiet meditation. The forty of us gathered together became silent, and there was a powerful energy that filled the room. We talked about that experience during the faith-sharing that followed. “When we gather together as a community to engage in contemplation,” one of the sisters at my table commented, “it has to make a real imprint on the world.” I felt blessed to be a part of it.