The Rule of St. Benedict: Chapter 15
Another outward aspect of the role the Psalms play in spiritual formation is a two-edged sword, quite honestly. This aspect has sparked not a little tension in my parish as I, the musical liturgist, on and off over the last several years, have moved the chanting of the Psalms to a more prominent place in our liturgy. The aspect to which I refer is the role of the Psalms in shaping our language, especially our language about God.
On the one edge, wonderful, ancient expressions of praise and joy, such as "Alleluia!" make their way into our vocabulary via the Psalms. I'm grateful that our Father Benedict sees fit to keep the Alleluias rolling through the year (with the notable exception of Lent, of course). We also receive beautiful words like hesed, which is translated as "loving-kindness" or "steadfast love" from exposure to the Psalms, words that attest to God's grace and mercy and faithfulness towards humankind and all Creation. Some Psalms bring us among high mountains and great forests and the wide oceans and birds and deer and sea creatures, opening our prayer vocabulary to the wonders of Nature.
On the other edge, some Psalms take turns down the back alleys of the ancient world and seem to acquire the dialect of hatred, vengeance, and bravado that grows among oppression and suffering. This is not a dialect I desire to acquire or that I desire my children to pick up as a way of speaking to or about God and neighbor. I seek to cultivate gentleness and patience in our household, not animosity and anger. This is a real tension and a point of legitimate concern for any Christian congregation.
I desire to name here and acknowledge the two sharp edges on either side of this aspect of the Psalms' role in formation. This is a tension that cannot be easily resolved, and I do not intend to try to do so here. Holding such tensions in the context of intentional, vowed community is yet another formative aspect of Benedictine spirituality.