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The Psalms: A Spiritual Resource as We Age

by Kathleen M. O’Connor

CTS Professor of Old Testament Kathleen O’Connor will teach the course, “Bearing Fruit in Its Season: The Book of Psalms and a Spirituality of Aging,” February 21-26, 2010. This Certificate in Spiritual Formation course is open to all. Click here for details and/or to register.

The Psalms are a neglected treasure house for anyone desiring to grow in relationship with God and in right relationship with the world and its creatures. The Psalms are particularly helpful forms of prayer for us as we age.

This is because the Psalms – a collection of hymns and prayers – cover all aspects of life. They call forth sadness, address fears, and invite gratitude and praise. They are expressive of themes of the process of aging.

The book of Psalms opens with directions about how to be happy. “Happy [or, blessed] are they who…” (Psalm 1:1). Psalm 1 urges those who wish to be happy to meditate on the Psalms; to let these prayers occupy their attention, enfold their times, and remind them always that they are in God’s presence.

To live this way is to grow like trees planted by streams of water; they yield their fruit in its season. Such people will not wither but will prosper and flourish and become their full human selves, in the company of all those who pray the psalms around the globe and across the generations.

As we grow old, the first psalm sets out a task of reflection, of life assessment, that can enable us to take possession of the wisdom gained over a lifetime of experience.

But if Psalm 1 sets us on a path to a life of wholehearted praise, the path through the Psalms is like a trip through life. The Psalms pass through lament, voicing struggles of life familiar to those who live to maturity. The Psalms recall times of trouble, national, political, and individual. They tell of betrayal, illness, fear and warfare. They offer words to help us bring before God the broken relationships and unresolved cares and needs that await attention as life comes toward its end.

And, the Psalms provide language of gratitude, to express thankfulness for the many overflowing gifts of a long life.

Themes of the psalms echo and evoke the challenges and joys of aging. They invite deeper reflection on our lives, our loves, and our contributions – as well as on our failures to exercise justice, care for the sick, attend to the poor, build community, and contribute to the well-being of all God’s people.

To contemplate the law of God in the Psalms is to set out on a path that culminates in a life of praise, a stance of worship in harmony with all creation.

The book of Psalms concludes with five alleluia psalms, hymns of praise that express the true life of believers, that name the human vocation in light of faith, that urge us to praise God in the sanctuary, the mighty firmament, that is, the cosmos itself.

The last psalm calls believers to praise with every musical instrument available and to sing praise with everything that breathes (Psalm 150). Such is the call to believers, and – as we age – the Psalms can draw us further into the global community of praise.

The book of Psalms calls us to reflect upon our lives. It gives us words to express our pain and hope. It comforts and call us to become a community of praise. This is the true path to happiness.