The Psalmist’s Voice


By Naomi Pattison-Williams | Twitter: @NaomiWilliams87

I have a fair-weather relationship with the Psalmist.
Oh, we have long sung in unison,
My lips accustomed to the rhythm of
Dwelling in the house of the Lord forever;
Being led to green pastures;
Lifting my eyes to the mountains; and
Finding refuge under the wings of the Almighty.

But they struggle with the jagged edges,
The guttural tones
The harsh condemnation:

Of 109
Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
let an accuser stand at his right hand…,
May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven[a] from their ruined homes.

Of 139
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

My tongue recoils from these refrains
Seeing in them a contradiction;
A God I don’t recognize
A humanity I do.
And so I gravitate toward goodness.

But in these days..
My tongue is twisting,
Pulled between the habit of years
And the gradual tug from a well that is groaning open
Somewhere within my body
In response to cries that grow louder, and louder.
Or perhaps it is simply that my ears are unplugging.

In these days
My tongue needs new language –
And finds itself exploring the full voice of the Psalmist.
Sometimes trembling
Still uncertain
But desperate for a way to pray –
For children begging for their mamas.
For handcuffs. Chain link fences. Cold concrete cells and colder laughter.
For goodnight kisses suspended in thick desert air.
For balled up fists and press releases and the gaping wound of fear.

How to pray for all this, Lord?
How to pray our anger?
Our longing for a world-set-right?

My tongue can no longer wrap around the familiar refrains
Without first wrestling with the less familiar ones
Which make space for honesty
For the ugliness of pain.
All the while struggling to know: how do I pray these Psalms,
And remain whole myself?

I do not understand the full voice of the Psalmist.
But I am seeking a new way to pray.
A new way to lift up the guttural groaning of a world
In thrall to fear; and
Longing for mercy.

Kyrie Eleison.
Teach us, O Lord.
Teach us how to pray.
Teach us how to occupy the fullness of the Psalmist’s voice.
Embolden our tongues and feet and our hearts
That we may seek a balm
For a fractured world.


About Naomi:

My name gives a clue as to the English and Japanese in me but my favourite thing about it is the Hebrew meaning: “pleasant,” a reminder that somehow I am pleasing to my Creator. My heart is a little bit in the various corners of England where I’ve spent most of my life, a little bit in the cherry-tree’d loveliness of Japan where my family is from, and a little in the wide open spaces of my husband’s native Western Canada where we are now making our home. I am currently studying at Regent College in Vancouver–a dream several years in the making–and feeling wildly thankful for it. You can find me on my blog or on Instagram @naopwilliams.