Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, January 13, 2017

David's Gloom-Busting Psalms

Here is Marc Chagall's painting (1967) of King David accompanying himself with a harp as he composes and sings his psalms. Psalms are the sung poem-prayers of ancient Israel. Christians love the psalms too. Indeed, a psalm is prayed at every Mass. 

The revered King is elevated here, as if floating between heaven and earth, suggesting the power of the psalms to lift up souls from the mundane, and even to afford us relief from suffering and sadness. 

Remember Kate Smith singing Irving Berlin's 1938 anthem: God Bless America. It's not a patriotic song nearly so much as it is a prayer. 

"God bless America, land that I love....through the night with a light from above." Mr. Berlin wrote the song during the Second World War; he understood darkness. So does King David who is floating and singing in darkness.

Well, the land that I love, and I expect you love too, is living under a dense, light-obstructing cloud these days. There is civil war in the hearts of many Americans. Dark demons were released and empowered this past year: the demon of disrespect, the demon of humiliation and mockery, the demon of bigotry, the demon of bullying, the demon of violence, the demon of lost decency, the demon of narcissism, the demon of hate, the demon of lost grace. We failed ourselves this past year, and all the world watched. 

So I'm proposing (just offering) that we might memorize a psalm (or two or three) as gloom-buster; cloud-lifter, darkness dis-speller. 

Memorizing psalms is a handy way to bring the best things to mind and heart. Here are ten psalms that I believe are wonder-working for troubled souls and minds. If when you investigate and the numbers and the opening lines don't agree - look to the next one - the numbering is sometimes different depending on the translation you are using.

Psalm 22 ~ The Lord is my shepherd...
Psalm 50 ~ Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness...
Psalm 69 ~ Deign, O God, to rescue me...
Psalm 90 ~ You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High...
Psalm 102 ~ Bless the Lord, O my soul...
Psalm 112 ~ Praise, you servants of the Lord...
Psalm 115 ~ I believed, even when I said...
Psalm 129 ~ Our of the depths I cry to you, O Lord...
Psalm 130 ~ O Lord, my heart is not proud...
Psalm 145 ~ Praise the Lord, O my soul, I will praise...

Is is possible to memorize a whole psalm? Of course it is. People memorize the lyrics to songs. We memorized the prayers of our childhood. Actors memorize their lines. Many of us have memorized the Gloria and the Nicene Creed. Try memorizing a couple of psalms and they will spring into mind spontaneously, when the darkness overshadows. In the movie A Trip to Bountiful, as she recites the 90th psalm from heart, Carrie Watts calls it "A bower of strength within me."


  1. I will most definitely be looking up these psalms and trying to learn a few. It's a good idea for us to do anything we can to keep a positive view of things and look for the light instead of the dark.

    1. Find the one that most engages you in a feeling place.

  2. I am not sure it is possible to cast out all of the demons you list here, but together we can try. I can only pray that both political sides can work to benefit the greater good.

  3. Ah, but the first defense against the demons - the first weapon against them is to name them - to declare them. It's when we ignore them or hide the truth of their existence that we enable, empower and encourage them.

  4. And many psalms do indeed make their way into songs, so many might know more of them than they think.

    Bless the Lord oh my soul
    Oh my soul
    Worship His Holy name
    Sing like never before
    Oh my soul
    I'll worship Your Holy name.
    (from the album 10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman)

  5. Power is a big responsibility. The psalms could be good tools for balance in the day, of the life of a politician.

  6. A president, a senator, a pope, a pastor, a parent, a teacher, a corporate head. Right from the start, power is a very great temptation: "Eat this fruit and you'll be like God."

  7. Sometimes life is just too overwhelming. There are too many things to do and take care of that I don't even know where to start. This doesn't even take into account what is happening in this abominable world. Do you think that memorizing a few of these psalms can help? I just don't know if I can feel them as you say, but I trust in you Father and take your advice to heart.