When we pray the Psalms, we are faced with a particular challenge not usually found in other prayers. I think of it as a diversity of voices, or what the church fathers called a plurality of persons, or “faces,” prosopa.
This phenomenon is not common to most other forms of prayer. Normally, when I address God, the “voice” of the prayer is first person, whether singular or plural. I pray either as “I” or “we.” We petition the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us,” for example, or I beseech the Lord to “take from me the spirit of sloth.” We adopt this first-person voice as a natural assumption.
It is a mistake, however, to bring this assumption—uncritically—to praying the Psalms. Indeed, to do so may lead to some very disordered prayer. If, for instance, I think of myself as the “voice” who says, “reward me according to my innocence,” or “my heart is not lifted up,” I am plunged into a serious conflict with truth; there is not a speck of “innocence” in my heart, which is almost always “lifted up.” In other words, I turn my prayer into a flight from reality, if I assume the “I” in the Psalms invariably refers to little ol’ me.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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