For various reasons I didn’t want to try making something from the Book of Revelation or the Cleansing of the Temple from St. Luke’s Gospel, so I looked at the Gradual Psalm, Ps. 119:65-71, and saw immediately that it spoke to some of what Gregory the Great had written about Compunction, a passage I had been praying with for several weeks off and on. Then from using a Psalm I remembered the lesson on Hebrew Poetry at CDSP in James Pritchard’s O.T. class 59 years ago, so I included something about that.
Last month during a week of personal retreat I had an opportunity to read some of the teaching of St. Gregory the Great on “Desire for God” in a book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, by Jean Leclercq, OSB, a monk of Clairvaux Abbey in Belgium.
St. Gregory taught that the desire for God comes through compunction, an act of God by which God awakens us by a shock, a blow, a sting, whereby the attention of the soul is recalled to God.
It is an act of purification which can be called passive. It is a gift beyond our understanding. Our part is to consent to it. (This is taken from my rough notes on the book mentioned above.)
When I read over the appointed Gradual Psalm for today in preparation for this sermon, some of the verses seemed to jump out at me with a meaning something like the “shock”, “blow”, or “sting” mentioned by St. Gregory.
I recognized in some verses words that had influenced my spiritual development in in years past. Other verses brought to mind negative occurrences that had served as warning signals directing me to more positive ways of thought.
Lines like, “The proud have smeared me with lies” (v.69) and “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (v.71) are like warning signals that point us to positive memories and thoughts, or give us the assurance of having turned to some of those good thoughts.
When reading the Psalms one should be aware that the Psalms are poetry. I first encountered this concept as a junior in seminary (CDSP) 59 years ago.
Hebrew poetry is found in similarities or contrasts of concepts, instead of in the rhyming of words. You might try noticing some of these the next time you look at a Psalm.
In presenting this I am far both in time and place from the seminary classroom in 1955 where I was first introduced to Hebrew Poetry in the Psalms by the Professor of Old Testament at CDSP, the Rev. Dr. James Pritchard.
I am thankful that I am able to bring this understanding of the poetry of the Psalms together with the concept of compunction of St. Gregory the Great.
Does this help you to understand a little more about the Psalms and their place in our spiritual lives?
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