“It is like breathing”



“How has praying the psalms seven times a day, every day, through the years formed your faith?”

Perhaps it was a presumptuous question for me to ask.  But the one place at the Abbey of Gethsemani , a Cistercian monastery in Kentucky, where the silence imposed on our four day retreat could be broken was in the lobby of the retreat house, staffed at times by one of the brothers assigned to see to the needs of the guests.  As I was passing through one morning, the lobby was empty except for the monk reading the paper.  This question had been growing in my mind as I observed the monks and sensed the import of the community devoting their lives to singing through the Psalter every two weeks throughout the days and years on behalf of the world.   I had been deeply moved by their psalm singing in which we were invited to join.  And I wondered about my own psalm singing on the trail.

When I queried whether I might ask him a question, I suppose he thought it would be about needing another towel, or directions to one of the many trails, or scheduling time for spiritual direction.  But it was only about psalms and faith.  He looked puzzled and paused for what felt like a long time.  I found myself regretting if I had made him uncomfortable.

And that’s when he said slowly, “It is like breathing.  It becomes a part of us.”  And then apologetically, he said, “I suppose that’s not a very good answer.”

Oh, but it was most definitely a wise answer.  Not that I understand the answer fully.  Yet I, who would be pacing my climbing on the trail to the rhythm of breathing—I, who had just written about the practice of breath prayer—now I had just been told that the psalms would become a way of breathing.   I should have guessed.

No, I don’t understand, really, what my brother monk means—even after a few days and several hundreds of miles of driving, pondering his answer.  How can I?   I have never vowed to pray the Psalms as he has done.   In fact,  I have never made a concerted effort to pay much attention to the  Psalms.  Until now. Like breathing (huh?), I think, as I load my backpack for the trip Friday.  Like breathing (really?), I puzzle, as I pack my tiny print New Testament and Psalms with some paper on which to journal.  Psalms can become like breathing (are you sure?), I wonder, as I sit down to pray the fifth psalm for this day, the 15th day of my sabbatical of praying psalms….

Obviously, I have a long way to go.

(Although I may post brief updates on Facebook, this is likely to be the last blog post for a while until I finish the hike around July 1.  Laptops don’t do well on the trail.)





  1. Tera Dent says:

    Oh, to have the Psalms (or any part of scripture!) be that intimately a part of you! I wish I could say the same as the monk!

  2. The answer he gave you is fascinating. Maybe it includes the rhythm of taking in and responding. And as Tera points out, becoming an intimate part of us. Giving us life… I’m going to be pondering this for quite a while too, I’m sure. I’m so anxious to hear of your experience as you make your way down the trail, breath by breath.