But if we can grasp the principle of what's being attempted, we'll find that we can transpose this principle into the circumstances of our own daily life, and let the rhythm of contemplative psalmody begin to carve a wisdom path in our own lives.
In principle, then, what happens when the Divine Office becomes the backbone of daily life? Essentially, just as in the monastery, a dynamic tension is established between our inner world of prayer and the outer world of our daily lives. The tension is carried in the power of these images in the psalms, which, as Jon Cassian said, contain "all the emotions known to man."
|What happens when the Divine Office becomes the backbone of daily life?|
The events of the day and those snippets of psalm verses reach out and connect--as happened to me in the pump house that day (see Lesson 8). It was no longer just a grim, miserable job on an equally grim and miserable December day. Suddenly, my own joy at drawing water again from a repaired pump resonated with "the fountain of salvation." I will never hear that scriptural verse in the same way again, because my life is now caught up in it. And in the same way, my life in that moment took on some of the dignity and magic of no longer just being an endless sequence of minor hassles, but somehow belonging to the sacred.
This is the magic of the unitive imagination. The psalm versicles, ingested into the unconscious and spontaneously resurfacing in the events of daily life, gradually create a different reality in which I live and move. My life takes on the quality of a living metaphor as I am drawn deeper into the Mystery and experience myself more and more on its terms.
In transposing this monastic wisdom into our own daily lives, then, the basic ground rule is simply to get the creative tension set up. From the outside, this means establishing some rhythmic balance between psalmody and your daily life--and lots of books talk about this. But from the inside, it looks like introducing a extraordinarily rich, time-tested, volatile, and creative set of metaphors into your subconscious, where they will begin to liberate and transform your heart--at the same time jump-starting your creativity. Try it! You'll see what I mean. No one hangs out too long in the presence of the psalms without starting to compose them oneself.
Instead, you might start with a psalm or two in the morning, and a psalm or two just before heading to bed. That last office of the day is called Compline, and from time immemorial the classic psalms associated with it are Psalms 4 and 91. As we've practiced earlier, you can chant them on a monotone, or a simple step-up, step-down tone.
|As you put the psalms inside you, they will gradually change the way you look at life.|
If space permits in your day, a brief pause around midday helps to refocus the day. The classic psalm here is 121 ("I lift up my eyes to the hills"). The others in this area, 122-128, are all magical, lyrical psalms and make a wonderfully fertile field for juxtaposition to life in the marketplace.
For those wanting a bit more formal structure to their divine office, one of the finest books I've seen is "Opus Dei," by Judith Sutera (Liturgical Press) from the Benedictine community of St. John's in Collegeville, Minn. It offers two psalms apiece for morning and evening, on a two-week cycle, in sharp, contemporary translations. The bare-bones simplicity makes this book quite manageable, even for over-pressured, contemporary folks (even singing slowly, you can do an office in 10 minutes flat!). And of course, there is always the simplest option of all: Just open your Bible or Psalter to Psalm 1, and gradually work your way through as time and inclination permit.
But my real suggestion is this: Don't try to copy the monastic office from the outside. Find the way from the inside. As you put the psalms inside you--in whatever way you develop, systematic or spontaneous, they will gradually change the way you look at life, gradually take you toward that inner geography that is the kingdom of heaven written within your own unitive depths. That in itself, as you feel it growing inside you, will tell you what to do next.