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VALERIE SCHULTZ: This mom finds comfort in psalms

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Columnist Valerie Schultz

The Bible's Book of Psalms speaks to many believers in many ways. The psalms transcend language and culture, geography and history, race and creed, as they translate the human experience of God into sacred poetry. It is well known that the psalms have sounded in the prayer of generations; however, I am somehow just hearing the clear tones in which they speak to me.

My familiarity with the psalms has been scattered and piecemeal. I imagine the first thing I learned was that the "p" is silent, like the "p" in pneumonia, and that some people pronounce the "l." I probably learned there were 150 psalms, the same number as Shakespeare's sonnets. At some point, most likely in a college theology class, I learned that the psalms were thought to have been written by King David, at the same time learning that this theory is not accurate, as some were written after David's death. And apparently, David was quite the musician, which means that the psalms he wrote are actually songs: The Greek word "psalm" means "religious song performed to music." They may not be as catchy as the songs we sing in our day, but we Catholics do tend to sing the psalms during Mass and while praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

Some of the psalms give historical witness by addressing the trials of ancient periods, such as Psalm 137, which laments the Babylonian exile of the Jews: "By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion." (Psalms 137:1) Many scholarly works explore the relationship between the psalms and the religious history of Israel, as well as how the psalms have carried over to Christian belief. Many scholars devote their lives to studying the psalms.

I am no biblical scholar. I am a mom. But one thing we moms know how to do instinctively is pray, especially for our children.

As I've gotten older, and maybe because with adult children I've had more time for reading and reflection, I have found the psalms to be surprisingly applicable to my prayer life. They speak of hope and despair, joy and sorrow, praise and doubt, petition and gratitude, all of which are surely a part of any faith journey, but particularly a mother's.

For example, my daughter was traveling abroad when international tensions with Iran recently escalated. She reassured me that her flight home was configured to avoid Iranian airspace, which she thought would ease my worry. It did not. A friend whose child also works overseas gently pointed me to Psalm 121, quoted here in its entirety:

I lift my eyes up to the hills —

from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time on and forevermore.

The serenity of this psalm carried me through to the day my daughter was safely home. It's not that I thought God would wave a magic wand and protect the jet that carried her home; it was that I felt strengthened in my belief that whatever happens on this earth, we all rest in the palm of God's hand. The Lord is indeed our keeper. Psalm 121 is another way to echo the prayer of Jesus: "Thy Will be Done."

Like all timeless writing, the psalms remind each of us that we are neither the first nor the last person to feel or experience or rejoice in or worry about the very same things as the psalmists did. The richness of being human permeates these 150 songs. When we pray with the psalms, the comfort we can take in being one of God's beloved creations abides. It is there for the singing.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at vschultz22@gmail.com; the views expressed here are her own.

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