The Psalms as Music

by Sylvia Maddox

On Mother’s Day several years ago, my son gave me the gift of a homemade CD called “Mom’s Mix.” As I listened to the variety of songs, from blue grass, to rock, to country-western and  gospel, I kept thinking, “How did he know the songs that would be so dear to my heart?” Every morning when I open the psalms, I feel a similar amazement. What a gift to have these songs that not only speak to us deeply but also lead us to a place of mystery and faith.

An old saying in the Celtic tradition holds that a good song comes from a singing heart, while a good prayer comes from a long time singing.  From the beginning, the psalms have been about singing.  The more we sing them in our lives, the more they become our prayer. In this way, the psalms become our song lines.  They accompany us on our pilgrimage and become our songs in the day and in the night.  

The beauty of the songs of the psalms is that they are not just about one’s personal journey — they celebrate the communal journey.  An eternal resonance comes from the long line of singers who have sung and prayed the psalms through the generations.  When I don’t have the words, the psalms sing for me.  When I need to sing for others, the psalms give me the words:  words of praise when I’m delighting in God’s creation; words of comfort when I’m visiting someone in the hospital; words of blessing when my children are traveling to unknown places.  These are the songs of faith that endure forever.

Prayer and singing are closely related because both are interwoven with listening. St. Ambrose said, in the 4th century, that when a psalm is sung “it makes its own silence.”   The word SELAH at the end of many psalms has musical connotations, meaning a rest, a time to pause and ponder more deeply the words that have been sung.  It’s often in silence, after one phrase of a psalm, that we enter into the silent music.  And in these moments of silence, we are able to transcend the harmony of our world and enter God’s perfect harmony.

Every day the first word of the psalms in Morning Prayer is “Come let us sing to the Lord.” What song line are you singing today?

Sylvia Maddox is a writer, teacher, retreat leader and member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio TX.


2 thoughts on “The Psalms as Music”

  1. Sylvia is a treasure which we are blessed to have as a member of our parish, The Episcopal Church of Reconciliation.

    1. My apologies to Sylvia and Church of Reconciliation. I regret the error and appreciate the correction. And, Sylvia is indeed a treasure. Marjorie George.

Comments are closed.