Like many people I have found that lockdown has brought my reading of Scripture to life and especially the Book of Psalms. The psalms form part of our cycle of daily prayer as priests in the Church of England, but that practice is only a late flowering of a much longer tradition. The regular recitation of the psalms reaches deep back into Judaism, forms part if the spiritual life of Christ himself, and was a staple of Christian worship from the earliest times, especially in the emergence of monastic communities almost all of which make the recitation of the entire psalter the very centre of the turning wheel of their prayers.
And we recite the psalms not just as historical texts from ‘out there and back then’ but as inspired words given for our own hearts to sing ‘in here and right now’. For Christians there is the special sense that the psalms prophetically showed forth the coming and the inner life of Jesus. They are also such great poetry and so rich and varied in their imagery, that they feed and nourish the imagination and become a source from which our own original prayers can be formed and enriched. We pray with the psalms not simply by reciting the original text but also by responding freely and creatively to their imagery. So I have begun a new series of short poems, responding freely to the daily psalms, and drawing on their leading images, as a starting point for Christian reflection. My hope is to weave these poems together into a corona, a crown or coronet of poems, the last line of each linking to the first line of the next, a chaplet of praise to garland the head of the one who wore the Corona Spina, the crown of thorns for us, and who suffers with us through this corona pandemic.
So here is the first one, ‘Beatus Vir‘, as our prayer book calls it, ‘Blessed is the man…’ and in this poem I have responded to the central image of pslam one: that the blessed person should be and pray ‘like a tree planted by the waters’:
Come to the place, where every breath is praise,
And God is breathing through each passing breeze.
Be planted by the waterside and raise
Your arms with Christ beneath these rooted trees,
Who lift their breathing leaves up to the skies.
Be rooted too, as still and strong as these,
Open alike to sun and rain. Arise
From meditation by these waters. Bear
The fruits of that deep rootedness. Be wise
In the trees’ long wisdom. Learn to share
The secret of their patience. Pass the day
In their green fastness and their quiet air.
Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,
Where simple being flowers in delight.
Then let the chaff of life just blow away.
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