I pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day. Seldom do I miss morning or evening prayers; most often I am able to pray the midday prayers and night prayers too. The soul of the Liturgy of the Hours is the psalms. In a 4 week cycle almost all of the psalms are used, and some of them used frequently. These words connect me to a tradition that is thousands of years old, and one that will continue long after I am gone. I find comfort in this, especially in the troubled times my church is enduring.
I love the psalms not only because they are sublime poetry, but also because they speak to the human condition. Praise, joy, despair, gratitude, all of these can be found in the psalms. I recently bought a new psalter which is used in the Trappist tradition which I respect and admire. While leafing through the volume I came across something I had only vaguely heard of up to that time. There are two psalms not used in my tradition, the so-called ‘cursing psalms’. I read them and understood why they are left out of the cycle, and yet, I cannot help but feel that they should be read.
The fifty-eighth and one hundred and ninth psalms both call for God to rain down curses on the heads of those who the psalmist considers enemies. They are vicious and explicit. The anger and thirst for vengeance are mirrored in certain verses left out of other psalms. It is hard to square these verses with authors who could write Psalm 8, 22, 23, 51, or a myriad of other psalms that praise, beg for forgiveness, acknowledge sinfulness and express gratitude. And yet, still….
I am grateful I found these ‘cursing’ psalms. They complete a picture for me of a person who wrestles with God while wrestling with himself. They show a human being capable of a full range of emotions, including the negative ones. I find myself in the Psalms and just as they reflect people who are human, they also reflect authors who, on the whole, are more ‘good than bad’ and I find this a worthy goal.