I have hidden Thy word in my heart…

by abbamoses

Holy Prophet David

Lately I’ve been trying to memorize psalms.

I had a few by heart already — I had picked up the King James versions of “The Lord is my shepherd” and “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands” somewhere in my childhood; and as an Orthodox Christian had memorized “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy” almost without thinking, since it’s so common in our services and personal prayers.

More recently I’ve added Psalm 33, “I will bless the Lord at all times,” and Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man,” to my small repertoire.

Knowing psalms by heart is an ancient spiritual discipline. It was so common in ancient Israel that (I’m told) people would describe the length of a journey on foot by saying “It’s fifteen psalms” or whatever the suitable number might be. This assumes two things right away: that people had many psalms by heart, and that they were accustomed to saying them as they walked.

In Christian times, we’re told that an early Church synod required that a candidate for Bishop be able to recite the entire Psalter by heart. (How many bishops today could pass the test?)  Among the Desert Fathers, recitation of the Psalter from memory was a typical rule of prayer — one which was gradually supplanted, I believe, by the Jesus Prayer.

But why am I doing this? There are many times in my day — lying awake at night, musing with nothing in particular to do — when it’s easy for my mind to be drawn into repetitive, harmful thoughts (logismoi, the Fathers call them): obsessive remembrance of wrongs, worries about the future, grandiose fantasies. Having some holy words at hand to fill my mind works amazingly well, I’ve found, to change the channel to something more helpful to body, mind, soul and spirit.

Next psalms to learn:

Psalm 83 (maybe my favorite), “How beloved are thy dwellings”

Psalm 69, “O God, be attentive unto helping me”

Psalm 142, “O Lord, hear my prayer”

Psalm 26, “The Lord is my light and my saviour”

There are others I’d love to know, but they seem too long right now; for example Psalm 118, “Blessed are the blameless in the way.” Wouldn’t it be fine to know that by heart!

For now, what I’ve done has been greatly helpful, and I hope to stick with it.

Note: Psalm numbers given here are from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. The King James/protestant psalm numbers are usually one greater; that is, Psalm 118(Septuagint) = Psalm 119 (King James)

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