The Language of a Heart in Prayer

Photography © by Andy Coan

“Allow the Psalms to transform your fears into trust, your cries of distress into praise, and your uncertainty into confidence in the Lord. ”


The Psalms have been comforting prayers during this strange Lent. Earlier in the week in the daily liturgy, we prayed Psalm 23 and proclaimed our faith in the Good Shepherd, confident he was leading us through the dark valley. On Tuesday, we begged him to hear our cries and to not hide his face from us. In the psalms this week, we have begged for mercy and reiterated our trust in him; we have pleaded with him but also praised and proclaimed his goodness.

Today’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 18, where David recounts the saving work of the Lord. It’s a hymn of thanksgiving prayed by David after the Lord saved him from death at the hands of Saul.

For us today, it can be a great prayer of petition in distress. It describes a bleak situation and reminds us of what the Lord is capable.

In my distress I called upon the Lord
and cried out to my God;
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

It’s well worth praying with the whole Psalm.

Likewise, this past Sunday, we prayed with Psalm 130, also known as the De profundis. It is used in the liturgy for the dead. Like Psalm 18, it is a cry to God in a desperate situation but ends in trust.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.

Lately my own prayer returns to Psalm 84, a prayer of a pilgrim going up to Jerusalem.

How lovely your dwelling,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and flesh cry out
for the living God.
As the sparrow finds a home
and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
My home is by your altars,
Lord of hosts, my king and my God!

It seems that this may have been written at a time when the author couldn’t go to Jerusalem and was longing for it. There were also times during the exiles where the Jews were far from the Temple. A righteous Jew praying Psalm 84 from his place in exile would have felt an acute desire for the presence of God in the Temple. At this time, we should unite our own desire for the physical reception of the sacraments with our ancestors’ yearning. Perhaps we have taken the physical proximity and the ready accessibility of the sacraments for granted.

The Psalms are the summit of prayer in the Old Testament, and they remain an essential prayer for the Church today. When we pray the psalms, we unite our prayer to Christ’s prayer, as he prayed them throughout his life. The Psalms provide the language for our prayers, and it is a language that unites Christians and Jews, past and present.  They give a language to our hearts in prayer.

Return to the psalms today. These profound songs are both personal and communal, and they run a gamut of emotions. They can give voice to our own longing, pain, and deep questions. They can also provide for us the words of praise and trust in the Lord when we find it difficult to raise our voices in acclaim. Allow the Psalms to transform your fears into trust, your cries of distress into praise, and your uncertainty into confidence in the Lord.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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