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Waiting in Joyful Hope

Reading the Psalms for Lent

One of my parishioners asked me for some advice on how to grow closer to the Father (you know — the one in heaven, hallowed is His Name). Now obviously the whole point of the Christian life is to enter into the joy of the Father, but the question was really asking about how to worship and love God-the-Father as the Father, and not just as "God".

In my opinion, the key is to pray with the mindset of Jesus. Now when Jesus was learning his prayers, such as the Psalms, he would often hear the words "Elohim", "Adonai", and he would see written the Name of God, usually transliterated in English as YHWH, which was the most intimate title for God and was never pronounced out of reverence (even in many Christian Bibles today they print the word LORD in all caps as a way to indicate that it is translating the Name). But what association did Jesus make in his mind when he heard them? He would have thought of his Father in heaven, to whom he felt so close that he called him by the familiar "Abba", which means "Papa" or "Dad".

A few years ago I tried this while I was praying my breviary, and it has become one of my favourite ways to pray. Take a psalm, and every time you see a title for God replace it with the word "Father". If it is actually the Name, you can go a step further and replace it with the more intimate term most familiar to you (in my case, I grew up calling my father "Papa"). Then pray it out loud, and see how it sounds to you. To a devout Christian ear it really opens up the Psalms — at least it did for me!

Here's a sample, using Psalm 3 from the NAB translation, without the familiar term:

How many are my foes, Father!
How many rise against me!
How many say of me,
"God will not save that one."
But you, Father, are a shield around me;
my glory, you keep my head high.

Whenever I cried out to the Father,
I was answered from the holy mountain.
Whenever I lay down and slept,
the Father preserved me to rise again.
I do not fear, then, thousands of people
arrayed against me on every side.

Arise, Father! Save me, Father!
You will shatter the jaws of all my foes;
you will break the teeth of the wicked.
Safety comes from the Father!
Your blessing for your people!

Notice I did keep the word "God" once in verse 3....it's because that is the way "others" speak, so I kept it to contrast with the speaker of the Psalm, who is turning to God-as-Father. We could theoretically (and very unofficially) reword the whole Old Testament this way, to help us read it with the mind of Jesus, although I tried once to just do a global find-and-replace and it didn't turn out that well....there'd still be lots of editorial work, for reasons similar to that example. But certainly nothing prevents us from doing it on the fly as we do our personal devotional reading.