For Lent this year (in addition to being overwhelmed by midterms), I’m chanting my way through the Psalms.
Last summer, I attended Morning Prayer with the Benedictine monks at St. Johns Abbey in Minnesota. Visitors sat with monks on one side of the cathedral, following the monks as to when to chant and at what pace. On the other side, another group of monks responded. The effect was both calming and haunting with holy mystery as the low vibrations bounced off the concrete walls.
About a month later at a different retreat, I chanted the Psalms following the direction of an Anglican priest. Our group was divided into two sides, and we needed to listen to each other’s breath to know when to start. The effect was that the entire retreat group learned to breathe in unison.
One of our group members, quoting Cynthia Bourgeault (whose book I shall read presently), called chanting a “yoga of breathing.”
Just like yoga, chanting has both spiritual and physical effects. Last summer I also learned that humming is good therapy for my vocal chords, which have been struggling while teaching. Chanting and humming exercise the vocal chords in similar ways. One of my aunts attends humming retreats, saying that humming is a good way to massage the inner organs.
So for Lent, I’m chanting through the Psalms by myself, breathing and praying. It’s kind of lonely chanting by myself, but it’s beautiful too. Chanting has been most powerful on those mornings when I really don’t want to crawl out of my nice warm flannel sheets.
Last week, for example, my midterm days were so long that I just did. not. want. to. go. to. school. I was tired. And cranky. And achy. And grumpy.
Psalm 22:14 caused me to say:
I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.
True words. And then the Psalm shifted and made me stop complaining and ask for help:
But You, O Lord, be not far off;
O You my help, hasten to my assistance. (19)
And then Psalm 23 follows Psalm 22 — and we all know what that one says:
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
He restores my soul. yes.
For more on chanting, visit www.ChristiansPracticingYoga.com: Chanting.