Archive for the ‘Holy Dwelling’ Category

Photo by Francois Guillot/AFP

‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’

Monday in Holy Week, April 15, 2019
Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris engulfed by fire

Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house,
that thou hast brought me thus far? . . .
For thou, My God, wilt build a house for him;
thy servant has found courage to pray before thee.

We build our temples of stone and wood,
walls wrapped with precious gold and jewels of glass;
They hold—and hide—our path to God,
and within, nourish our courage to pray.

Do you see these wonderful stones and great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another;
all will be thrown down. Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up.

When even temple stones are silenced,
God’s Voice sings on within our hearts,
raising within our Soul the Holy Dwelling
of Love that fire and flood can never doom.

(Mary Magdalene)
O, who will roll away the stone barring the tomb?
He is not here; he has risen! Go forth singing,
Allelulia! Christ is Risen!
He is Risen, indeed! Allelulia!

David: 1 Chronicles 17: 16, 25
Jesus: Mark 13:1-2; Mark 14:58
Mary Magdalene: Mark 16:1-7

(c) Susan Creighton 2019

Holy Thursday, 15th c. Russian

Holy Thursday, 15th c. Russian


Maundy Thursday

There is something about the Maundy Thursday liturgy that always connects with my deepest feelings . . . In fact, I think it is probably my most favorite liturgy of the entire Church Year! Maundy Thursday is so very different in tone and mood. It is something quite “other” than the deep solemnity of Good Friday, or the dark brilliance of Midnight Mass at Christmas, or even the glorious joy of the Easter Vigil.aPerhaps what I most like about it is that it is so very ordinary, so very simple.

When I was a sister of the Order of St. Helena, the Convent celebrated Holy Week according to the ancient traditions of the Church, following the Monastic schedule: We all kept complete silence for the entire week (except for the Offices—Morning and Evening Prayer, Noonday Prayer and Compline). Even guests who came to spend the week with us entered into the silence, which seemed to deepen as the week went along and we read all the scriptures telling of Jesus’ last week: His grand entrance into the City on Palm Sunday, his teaching in the Temple, and his driving out the money-changers. . . . It was all like being a participant in a grand drama.

Yet when we came to the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, the mood shifted: our silence was ended as we bustled around in the kitchen, preparing an Agape Feast of roast lamb and all the trimmings. Even the chapel and sacristy became places of heightened activity: polishing the best silver chalice and preparing for the vigil through the night.

But even in the bustling around, there was an awareness that what we were doing was so ordinary, so simple

Ordinary, simple activities that all of us, as single people and families, have been doing this night also: We’ve had our evening meal, perhaps leisurely, perhaps rushed, yet all of us doing what we do every night of our lives . . . Gathering around our kitchen tables at the close of the day, perhaps with family, or friends; gathering to eat our meals, to talk, to be with one another.

Now, in the liturgy, we are about to do another simple thing: to give rest to the weary by reaching out and touching each other—by bending some tired, aching backs to lean over and touch gently some tired, aching and dirty feet. Simply to do for another what we might wish to have done for our own weariness.

Then we will gather again around this second table to share in another very simple meal: a morsel of bread, a sip of wine.

And then the night will close down, and we will each go off our separate ways—some to sleep, some to work, some to watch and pray.

Simple things: eating, touching, praying.

Simple things which have been done down through the ages from the time the world began—in different ways, in different times, even to different Gods—but still such simple things.

Pre-historic cave dwellers sharing a successful hunt around a fire—eating quickly, speaking but rarely, drawing close to one another as the night draws in with its unknown terrors.

A wandering Aramean herdsman—Abraham—offering curds and milk and a young calf to three strangers by the oaks of Mamre, and receiving their commiserations about a barren wife named Sarah.

City dwellers, aliens in a foreign land, preparing to flee their oppressors, eating in haste of roasted lamb, and bitter herbs, and unleavened bread.

Within my own memory, the family gathering at the end of a long day, eating our dinner, sharing the news of the day, simply being in the presence of one another in quiet communion and joy. And then we’d adjourn to the living room to sit by the fire, read the paper, do homework. And so often, Daddy would ask my sister or me to rub his feet, tired from standing in long hours of surgery or from walking miles of irrigation ditches on the farm.

Simple, ordinary things of eating…touching…loving.

And yet so very profound.

These very simple things are so full of meaning and power and love that they have undergirded the whole of Western civilization as we know it. Ordinary actions meeting ordinary human needs, becoming the most powerful sacraments of God’s love.

Simple things we do, but O! such a wealth of riches held for us in their very simplicity.

We think of Maundy Thursday as the beginning of the Triduum—the “Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday: In the monastic tradition there is an intensification of silence, a paring down of the Office to its bare bones of psalms and collect; and then the heady joy of a talking dinner, a joy is muffled by the knowledge of the hours that lie before us . . . the hours when each of us would “watch one hour” before the reserved Sacrament, in memory of the dark hours Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, the hours during which his disciples fell asleep.

Maundy Thursday is also the time in which we celebrate the centrality of the Eucharist—of its institution on this night—of the words of Jesus: “This is my Body. This is my Blood.”

We move from dinner that feeds our bodies to the Eucharist that nourishes our souls. We move from the light-hearted banter of late afternoon to the solemn joy of touching one another, hands to feet.

We move from the communal sharing of the dinner table to the communion of the altar—and then we move from that union with one another to the solitude of our own homes, some of us perhaps spending an hour in prayer this night, as we too, remember Jesus in the Garden as he prayed, “Father, let this cup be taken from me . . .

Through all these activities—family meals and the washing of feet, and the sharing of Holy Communion, there runs a single thread, a single meaning: That is the command of this night: To love one another.

Just as the most simple actions become such profoundly grace-filled sacraments, so too does that single thread of love lead us to many levels, in many directions.

It leads us to the immense love brought to us through the faithfulness of the church over the ages; to the love that reaches out to embrace the penitent and the sorrowful; to the love that restores both the individual and the community.

There is a wonderful moment in the old Roman rite of reconciliation on Maundy Thursday, in which the penitents (barefooted and carrying unlit candles) are presented by the archdeacon to the Bishop at the door of the church. The archdeacon says,

“The acceptable time is at hand, the day of God’s mercy and man’s salvation, when death is destroyed and eternal life begins—For, although there is no moment when God’s goodness and love are absent, now in his mercy his forgiveness of sins is more abundant . . . Now our community is increased by the reborn, our numbers augmented by those returning. The waters cleanse and so do tears; therefore we rejoice at those who are first called, and our joy is great when sinners are forgiven.”

“Waters cleanse, and so do tears.” . . . This is the sign of that great love which calls us here tonight. If we are to be fully human, fully who we are called to be by God, we often need to weep with one another, to forgive one another, to be cleansed and healed together.

We also need to nourish one another. How well do we truly know and care for one another? We may live, work, eat, and pray together but so often we may walk in loneliness in the midst of community. This, too, is where we are led by that great thread of love: to the love that truly nourishes the other—”This is my Body, given for you.” To the love that draws us all into the one great bond of love in Christ Jesus. And above all we are drawn to the immense love of the Father that sustained Jesus in the loneliness of the Garden, and that sustains us in our loneliness.

It is not easy to discover this kind of loving nourishment. Perhaps it is particularly difficult to find in a one-sex, celibate community such as a monastery or convent; perhaps it is also difficult to find in ordinary families, in ordinary communities. Yet that great difficulty is also our greatest opportunity for truly finding and sharing the nourishment of love.

I don’t know exactly how it is done, but perhaps an experience I had years ago may help reveal it. One morning, while celebrating Eucharist at the convent, I looked at the wine in the chalice and saw something I had never before seen. In the center of the wine was a light, through which it seemed I was able to gaze into the whole heart of the universe. Then I realized that the light was formed by a perfectly symmetrical reflection from the four sanctuary lamps.

Because of the angles at which the light was reflected, it could only be seen when one stood in the place of the celebrant. I could not gather the sisters around the altar and show them this light all at the same time. It could only be seen by someone standing in one particular spot. It felt very lonely when I realized no one else could see what I saw—at least not in that moment. I could only tell others of the Light . . . the Love which I saw in the chalice at that moment.

Perhaps this is a metaphor for the loneliness which so many of us experience in our culture: the loneliness of parent and child; the loneliness of the elderly; the loneliness of the homeless; the loneliness of the ethnic or sexual minority. . . The love that we each see can only be seen by our own eyes; and yet we are drawn by that same love to carry it to each and every one of us. If we do not share the love that sustains our loneliness, if we do not nourish one another with that love, we too will die, we too will be abandoned and hungry.

Simple things we do this night:




Simple things which are so profound, and which are rooted in Love. Simple things which each of us sees from our own eyes, in particular and individual ways. Simple things which speak of the Love of God . . . but only if we speak, only if we eat together, touch one another, pray together.

Jesus says to his disciples on this night, as he washes their feet: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Simple things.


Nativity of Christ


I do not need to begin this Christmas meditation with a listing of the raucous and hurtful noises filling our world—you know it as well as I do.

And so this year my prayer for us all, near and far, friend and foe, beloved and stranger, is simply that this season of celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ might open each of our hearts to the Holy Silence of an innocent Babe born into His Father’s World, a world of beauty and abundance, a world of joy and peace, yet a world so often torn asunder by our inability, our unwillingness to recognize the eternal gifts given to all humankind, to all creation.

The Gospel of John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Perhaps another way of saying that could be, “The Silence swallows the noise, and the noise has not overcome it.”


Come, Lord Jesus, Come:
Fill the earth with
Holy Silence

Holy Silence-
gift of gentleness and peace
to terror and cruelty;

Holy Silence-
gift of humility and love
to arrogance and pride;

Holy Silence-
gift of compassion and joy
to hate and revenge;

Holy Silence-
gift of calm and hope
to fear and despair;

Holy Silence-
gift of strength and faith
to doubt and distrust.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come:
Fill our hearts with
Holy Silence

SC+ © 2015

He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Holiest of Holy

Holiest of Holy


It is Easter morning, and our hope is ever born anew.

And inexplicably–only God knows why–this poem, prophetic, apocalyptic, and eschatological as it is, springs to mind.

The Second Coming

W.B. Yeats in 1919

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

May you know the hope of the risen Christ this day.

Susan Creighton+

View image on Twitter

For Ukraine…and Syria…and Egypt…and Africa…and Venezuela…

You pour Your holy oil into the stars, O Holy Spirit,

and out of senseless conflagrations

You make vigil lamps before the Glory of Heaven.

Pour Yourself into my soul also,

and out of a passionate conflagration

make a vigil lamp before the heavens.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake. 2nd Edition. Prayer XX

(I don’t pretend to understand all the dynamics here, but on a 1993 visit, Kiev entered my heart…she has known such violence–in WWII, the slaughter of Jews, and many others at Babi Yar, and untold other wars and famine and injustice over the ages…..we can only pray–and offer their suffering as vigil lamps before the Glory of Heaven.)



Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 1

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 2

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 3

Part 4

HOLY DWELLING – Saturday and Sunday

As we continue to pray the psalms through the week, and through the architecture of the church, I am reminded of two stories from many years ago, one told me by a friend and another which I witnessed directly. In the first of these, some time in the early 1970’s, my friend’s son, perhaps only four or five years old, said to his mother one day after church, “Mama, what’s happening up there in front behind the fence (the altar rail) is what’s really REAL, isn’t it?” His child’s innocence enabled him to perceive the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine in a way that most of us struggle to ever know. In the second instance only a few years later, I was attending a meeting of Episcopal religious orders held at one of the more traditional convents. We gathered for Eucharist in a small chapel, and the celebrant wanted to remove the free-standing altar rail so that we could all gather around. An elderly nun was serving as thurifer, and she simply could not bring herself to step into the sanctuary proper across the line where the rail had stood. At the time, I was appalled that she was so locked into the ‘old’ way of doing things. Now I realize that her actions (perhaps unconscious, but nevertheless genuine) were rooted in an awareness that our souls must be sufficiently prepared to cross that sacred threshold into the Heart. Would that the rest of us (especially we clergy!) had the humility to recognize the sacred ground of the Altar.

For the Altar within the Sanctuary is the preeminent symbol of the Heart, where God dwells, the site within the human soul wherein the most profound and exalted contemplation of the Holy Trinity may occur, and it is the destination to which everyone is called.  St. John Chrysostom says, “Find the door of your heart, and you will find the door of the Kingdom of Heaven” and The Philokalia calls the Heart:

“the spiritual centre of man’s being, man as made in the image of God, his deepest and truest self, or the inner shrine, to be entered only through sacrifice and death, in which the mystery of the union between the divine and the human is consummated.”

And so, in this arrangement of praying the psalms week by week, over a four week cycle, we will find ourselves on Saturdays focused on the kind of Holy Dwelling best exemplified by the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the original sanctuary of our Lord, as well as on the fullness of virtue and purity to which the soul gradually ascends.

On Sunday, our prayer through the psalms brings us to the praise and worship of God for the ultimate expression of Holy Dwelling in the Resurrection of Christ, as well as giving us hints of theosis, in which as St. Maximus the Confessor says:

“When, urged by love, the mind soars to God, it has no sensation either of itself or of anything existing. Illumined by the limitless Divine light, it is insensible to all the created, just as is the physical eye to stars in the light of the sun.”

Yes, this is the “really, Real” that only an innocent child—or a holy saint—could recognize. Even so, the wonder is that every time we make our way up that long aisle, though the choir, to the altar, and receive in our own hands and mouths the Body and Blood of Christ, we, too, know the “really, Real”; we, too, enter in to Holy Dwelling.



Holy Dwelling finds the Soul increasingly dwelling within her heart, and now, even the mind is quiet and ‘naked’.

Holy Dwelling brings the Soul ever nearer to the goal of her journey in God. Now, she experiences an ever deepening illumination and contemplation of all that is, seen and unseen.

Holy Dwelling brings the Soul to contemplation of the Holy Trinity, moving beyond mere words about God, to the wordless silence of the heart in pure adoration.

Holy Dwelling is found as the Soul enters the sacred altar of the heart, the Kingdom of Heaven, the place where God alone dwells.


HOLY DWELLING Incarnation / Virtue 
Vespers37, Part I1112147
37, Part II1046441


HOLY DWELLING Resurrection / Theosis
Vespers110107, Part I12111
30107, Part II12431




Part 3

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING – Thursday and Friday

It is somehow fitting that today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, this post brings us to CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING. Peter and James and John had walked the path of FAITHFUL LIVING during their years as disciples of Jesus. Now, as Jesus led them up a high mountain, they were—no doubt unknowingly!—ascending with their Lord into a new realm of being, a higher state of consciousness, if you will, and into a more spiritually sensitive aspect of the soul. Now, they were able to perceive the saints (Moses and Elijah), but even more critically, to see with the eyes of their souls the Light of the Transfigured Christ. (How frustrated poor Peter was to discover that he could not contain this vision, this Reality-with-a-capital R, in his booths!)

But back to Dwelling in the Psalms. If we return to the architectural model of the church, having spent our time in the Nave, we move past the Pulpit and Lectern, and (in most traditional buildings) ascend Three Steps, past the Rood Screen / Iconostasis into the Choir.

First, let us look at the Three Steps. In the ancient mystical tradition, these have been seen as signifying mystically our three stages of purification—from external passions of the body (gluttony, fornication, avarice), internal passions of the soul (wrath, despair, and acedia), and finally from passions of our mind (vainglory and pride).

The Rood Screen / Iconostasis is seldom seen in western churches, even if built with a more traditional floor plan. Nonetheless, many medieval churches had some sort of screen or railing between the Nave and the Choir and Sanctuary.  (See for example photos by Allan Barton, (see here and here.) In St. Paul’s, Bellingham, WA, where I worship our rather elaborate wrought-iron rood screen has occasionally become a point of controversy, with some congregants loving it, and others feeling that it in some way “shuts them out” from the altar. I recall the first time twenty years ago when I preached at St. Paul’s, my initial reaction was one of being in a prison of sorts! However, I am now a fervent support of the Rood Screen, for I better understand its spiritual significance. Such an architectural feature whether subtle or bold serves to nudge our soul to the awareness that we are moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the visible created order we discern with our five senses to the invisible and intelligible we can only discern with our heart.

And so we come to the Choir. In the medieval churches, this was the territory of the monastics whose lives were dedicated to prayer and contemplation, but to this day the choir is the place where we “pray twice” through our singing. Now, whether singing in the choir or moving through it on the way to receive communion, we open our souls to Illumination and Wisdom, to moving more deeply into the sacred presence as well as to depths of Sacrifice and Redemption.

As a result, the psalms chosen for Thursday and Friday support our soul’s movement into ever deepening understanding (poor word, but it will have to do for the moment) and wonder at the works of God, whether through the awesome gift of creation itself, or through the ultimate gift in the Person of his Son




Contemplation of the Created Order was called by the ancient church “second natural contemplation,” or “contemplation of the book which is read.”

Contemplation of the Created Order initially utilizes our five senses to rejoice in the wonders of God’s works in all creation, from the earth, planets, and stars, to the smallest atom and particle of matter.

Contemplation of the Created Order strengthens as the Soul’s life in God matures and deepens, and we become more deeply aware of the transcendent presence of God in all of creation.

Contemplation of the Created Order continues the process of purification of the Passions of Desire (gluttony and fornication), and deepens the purification of the Passions of the Temper (avarice, sorrow, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride). This purification helps the Soul to develop a higher degree of Dispassion, and transformation of the vices into virtues.

Contemplation of the Created Order also brings us to a fuller experience of illumination in the eternal truth of God’s Word as we give praise for all His works of redemption.

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING (Contemplation of the Created Order) Illumination / Wisdom
Vespers18, Part I4973132
18, Part II6290115



Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem was known in the ancient tradition as “first natural contemplation,” or “contemplation of the intelligibles.” Here, the Soul moves from a contemplation of the visible creation, perceived by the senses, to the contemplation of the invisible, or unseen—those things which can only be perceived by the mind. (Or more specifically, the Nous—not just the rational, deductive mind.)

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem develops when the Soul comes to an even more mature level. Now we realize that ‘the Kingdom of God is within,’ and we enter more deeply into the silence of our Souls.

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem continues the (life-long) process of purification, but now there is likely more emphasis on the passions of pride and vainglory, as well as the Passions of the Mind, when we encounter the temptations of false visions, prophecy, and revelations.

Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem brings forth a flowering of the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’, with ever-deepening love, joy, peace, and wisdom.

CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING (Contemplation of the Heavenly Jerusalem) Sacrifice / Redemption
Vespers89, Part I35140123
89, Part II12512988

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 1

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 2

Part 2

FAITHFUL LIVING – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

Another way of thinking about Dwelling in the Psalms is to visualize our movement through the physical structure of the church. (And here I am utilizing the very traditional floor plan of a medieval, Western cathedral or monastery chapel, an architecture that is still to be found in many smaller churches built prior to say about the 1960’s.)

We enter the church from the out-of-doors, remembering our ancient movement from the Garden and the glories of creation. We climb the steps to enter the Narthex, responding to the call of God. We then come to the Baptistry, remembering our deliverance from captivity, and our initiation into the Body of Christ. Then we come to the Nave, where most of us spend most of our worshiping lives, hearing again and again the stories of salvation history, and learning what it means to come into covenant with God, and to follow His Law, and become His Holy People. From the Pulpit and Lectern, we learn the meaning of faithful discipleship, as we learn to follow the Commandments, and live the Beatitudes. In so doing, we encounter our passions, and through purification and repentance, transform them from vices into virtues, and grow in faith, patience and charity.

In summary, then:

Faithful Living comprises the foundational phase of the Soul’s life in God. It begins with creation itself, and with the call to God’s people to follow, love, and obey him.

Faithful Living concerns our deliverance out of captivity—the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt through the Red Sea, and the Christians’ initiation into the Body of Christ through Baptism and Chrismation.

Faithful Living calls us into Covenant with God, into the relationship of obedience, and surrender to God, who in turn, protects and guides us to the fulfilling His Law, and to becoming His holy people.

Faithful Living above all teaches us to “Love one another.”—to live with compassion for all, even ourselves; to grow in faith, patience, and charity.

Faithful Living continually calls us to repentance and conversion, and to the grateful reception of God’s loving mercy to us, and to all who “fall short of the Glory of God”—which, of course, is all of us.

Faithful Living transforms our vices into virtues, and, through detachment and discrimination, we become more dispassionate—no longer at the mercy of our own passions.


FAITHFUL LIVING Creation / Salvation History 
Vespers105, Part I106, Part I78, Part I78, Part II
105, Part II106, Part II100114


FAITHFUL LIVING Discipleship / Passions  


FAITHFUL LIVING Purification and Repentance

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 1




Alder Bench

29 July 2013

Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany

Dwelling in the Psalms

Part 1



The Book of Common Prayer introduces the Psalter by saying “it is a body of liturgical poetry, designed for vocal, congregational use, whether by singing or reading.” And in the Anglican tradition, there has long been an expectation that clergy would say the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and that this discipline would also be followed by devout laity as much as possible. Yet I think if we are candid, it is a discipline that is likely practiced only by a minority, whether lay or clerical. I can only confess that, having once known the riches of the monastic community praying and chanting the prayers and psalms day after day, season after season, I frankly found it nigh on impossible to say the offices on my own. They were designed for corporate, congregational prayer, and that was no longer an option for me on a daily basis.

Yet always, my heart hungered for what I knew was truly food for the soul. And so after years—nay, decades!—of praying in an unstructured, irregular manner, I found myself returning once again to a more traditional practice. Perhaps my own interior silence had deepened sufficiently to sustain a richer feast of psalms, readings, and canticles.

As a result, this arrangement of the Psalms is the fruit of an effort to find a way of praying the Psalms that is in accordance with the practice of the ancient Church, and that is also coherent with the life-style of the solitary anchorite or hermit. (Perhaps it may also be useful for others who pray alone, or even in community.)

Praying the Psalms in solitude is very different than praying them in a congregation or a monastic community. In solitude, one does not have the support of other voices, other souls—except, of course, for the presence of the Communion of Saints, who are even now and unto the ages lifting their voices in praise to the Holy Trinity.

The life of a vowed anchorite or hermit is also a life dedicated to silence and simplicity. As such, the traditional breviaries and lectionaries may be found cumbersome, and unduly complicated, often impinging upon the deep silence of contemplative prayer.

This arrangement, then, is significantly simplified. The cycle of Psalms is spread over a four-week cycle. In addition, rather than the ancient tradition of seven daily offices, and the more contemporary tradition of four offices a day, this Psalter is divided between Matins and Vespers. Some may choose to add a period of intercession at noon day, and the traditional late-evening office of Compline may more easily be recited by memory while preparing for sleep.

A few comments about the distribution:

For generations, lectionaries have distributed the scripture readings to reflect to some extent the season of the liturgy (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter….and less so for “ordinary time”). Yet I have been unable to find any tradition (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican) that does the same to a significant degree with the Psalms. By and large, the Psalms most often seem to have been prayed in a roughly numerical order, whether on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cycle, with occasional variations to be found. If anyone knows of other types of ‘thematic’ lectionaries for the psalms, I hope you will let me know!

The only thing I have found which is close to a thematic (non-seasonal) distribution was that developed by Bonnell Spencer, OHC, in A Monastic Breviary, used by the Order of the Holy Cross and the Order of St. Helena. Fr. Spencer introduced the Psalter by saying,

In determining the assignment of [the psalms], the effort was made, not only to fit them to the time of day, but also to give certain days of the week a special tone. Thus worship and thanksgiving characterize the psalms selected for Sunday, and also for Thursday because of its association with the Eucharist and the Ascension. Friday, and to a lesser extent Wednesday, have been treated as penitential. The Incarnation and the part taken in it by the Virgin Mother are associated with Saturday.  A Monastic Breviary (Holy Cross Publications, 1976)

However, the more I have immersed myself in the ancient patristic tradition of ascetical practice, and discovered therein a clear path for the journey of the soul, I found the traditional psalm distribution to be jarring and seemingly without any reflection of this spiritual path. So at last, building on these studies, I began to examine the traditional stages of the mystical path as a context for praying the Psalms.

In the Western Church, we have traditionally identified three stages: Purification (or Purgation); Illumination; and Union. These designations found their roots in the teaching of the early church (3rd-7th centuries), especially in such masters of the life of the soul as Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius of Ponticus, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Maximus the Confessor. They identified similar stages, but more often used terms such as the Practical Life, Contemplation, and Theosis (or Divinization). Further, contemplation was often seen as having two stages within it, the earliest being contemplation of the created order, and the more advanced being contemplation of the ‘intelligibles’ or the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem.’ Only after passing through these stages, would the soul come to the fullness of the ‘likeness’ of God, or theosis, or union.

I have adapted these stages under the headings of “Faithful Living”, “Contemplative Living”, and “Holy Dwelling.” While using this understanding of the mystical path, rather than simply reciting the psalms in numbered sequence, I have arranged them—to the degree possible—to reflect the journey of the soul through the stages according to various themes reflecting the experiences and emphases of each stage.

Psalm Stages & Themes

SUNDAYHoly DwellingResurrection / Theosis
MONDAYFaithful LivingCreation / Salvation History
TUESDAYFaithful LivingPassions / Discipleship
WEDNESDAYFaithful LivingPurification / Repentance
THURSDAYContemplative LivingIllumination / Wisdom
FRIDAYContemplative LivingSacrifice / Redemption
SATURDAYHoly DwellingIncarnation / Virtue

 Such a distribution of the Psalms supports the soul by each week emphasizing the different stages of the mystical journey. Of course, not every psalm fits neatly into these categories, and someone else might determine a very different distribution. I was also constrained by an effort to approximate the number of verses for each office, coming up with an overall average of 44 verses for each of the 56 offices in a four-week cycle.

Although traditional practice is to begin each week with Saturday Vespers, I have chosen to use our more modern calendar by beginning with Sunday. However, it would be simple to adjust this system to the more traditional, simply by moving Saturday Vespers to the beginning of each week.

What about the ‘imprecatory’ verses? Our modern sensibility finds them very objectionable, indeed. Some lectionaries omit them entirely. And yet, does that not simply impose our own sensibilities upon what has for millennia been part of the prayer of faithful people, Jew and Christian alike? As hard as some of these verses are to pray, it seems to me they must be retained. We may not wish to think of ‘dashing little ones’ heads against the rocks’ (Ps. 137), but there are people out there who do just that, and perhaps our prayer can bring them—and our own unruly passions—into the transforming presence of God. It is also worth noting that the ancient tradition was to see some of these verses as directed against the assault of demonic and evil forces, a reality which must be encountered by any soul who prays for very long.

One other note: Psalm 95 is not included here because it is used every day at the beginning of Matins. The translation used is that of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

In the coming days, I will continue these posts on the psalms, with a slightly fuller explanation of each stage, and with a chart of the psalms assigned to each office and day within each stage.

Susan Creighton+

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 2

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 3

Dwelling in the Psalms, Part 4


NOTE: I wrote this meditation over thirty years ago…only now am I beginning to understand it.

The Rev’d. Susan Creighton, Anchorite

Winter is an odd time to begin anything: we think of it as the last of the Four Seasons; as a metaphor for the closing years of a long life; as a time of hibernation, stillness, and death. And as we ourselves approach this time of year, or time of life, we may find we would rather hearken back to the newness and hopefulness of Spring, to the exuberance of Summer, to the glorious abundance of Autumn. Ah, those gaudy, golden months of Autumn, when the trees fling themselves into an oblation of color, shouting with all the energy from the summer of their youth: “Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills, and all that grows upon the earth, praise him and highly exalt him for ever.”

But the day comes when that shout is muted by the gray shawl of low hanging clouds, slipping round the hills, and bringing soft, tentative rain. Slowly, bolstered by a rush of wind, the rain gathers courage, daring to challenge the riot of color. Where once an occasional leaf floated casually to earth, slow and relaxed as a Sunday driver, now a blizzard of gold and red strips the trees of the last vestiges of life. A vast silence permeates the waiting forest, as final preparations are made for the pall of snow that soon will cloak the ugliness of naked death.

Then one morning we wake to an icy moonlight and know that Winter is upon us. The earth lies still and silent, all sounds muted by the cloak of snow, all life seemingly brought to a standstill: the birds do not sing; the woodchucks lie snug in their burrows; the woodland streams are frozen in their beds. And we find that this awesome stillness penetrates into our own hearts: Winter has entered into us, and into our prayer.

For our life of prayer also has seasons: the tentative Spring of newborn faith, just beginning to hope; the full-blown Summer of certainty and conviction, when we dwell in the full radiance of the Light of God. And of course there is the glorious Autumn of prayer, when we reap the harvest of long seasons of spiritual planting and cultivating; when we move beyond petition to praise; beyond penance to the mature knowledge of the love of God.

Then, as inevitably as the seasons of the earth, comes a time of Winter to our life of prayer, our life in God. Sometimes this spiritual Winter slips upon us almost unnoticed, like the slow shortening of the hours of daylight. Or, it may come to our prayer like the furious gust of a late hurricane, tearing from us all certainty, all fruitfulness, and battering us into a depression and bleakness than can be likened only to death. But whether our Winter comes slowly and unnoticed, or furiously and devastatingly, we at last find ourselves in a place of immense stillness.

The Winter of prayer is a place of grayness, yet with the stark contrasts of icy blackness and brilliant whiteness. Just as the bare skeletons of the trees stand silhouetted against dull gray sky, we find our prayer has become naked and stripped and skeletal. We find no green hope of life in our prayer, let alone any evidence of fruit or mature foliage. We cannot pray, and so we simply say prayers, depending upon the bare bones of the faith of the Church, and the promise of the sacraments to carry us through the death of our own prayer.

Then, slowly, as the Winter wears on, we begin to find comfort in its very stillness, and shelter in the blanket of snow which has brought rest and silence to our prayer. We find that in the silence of this spiritual Winter, we are listening more acutely to the voice of God. And while we feel ourselves frozen into the stillness of Winter, we yet find the Water of Life flowing deep within us, and deep within the bosom of the earth.

As we move more deeply into this Winter, we find that the place of stillness and death has been transformed into one of waiting and rest. As the trees must shed their leaves and draw back their sap to prepare for another season of life and growth, so, too, we must allow our prayer such a Winter. For Winter does not mean that life has departed from the earth, nor has faith departed from our prayer. Rather, it is a time of waiting, and rest, and even of death, in which we pause and prepare for the rebirth of Spring, the renewal and greater growth of the next season of prayer. Winter, as the culmination of the year, and the completion of a life span, is also the beginning of a new cycle of seasons, the beginning of New Life in Christ. Winter brings a time of deep silence to our souls, a silence out of which we can proclaim, “Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold, drops of dew and flakes of snow. Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him for ever.”