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Praying the Psalms Through Lectio Divina With Dr. Jim Papandrea

Father Dave welcomes Catholic professor and author Dr. Jim Papandrea back to the show to discuss a different approach to prayer in his new book, “Praying the Psalms: The Divine Gateway to Lectio Divina and Contemplative Prayer.”

While researching prayer in the early Church, Dr. Papandrea realizes, “The very idea of a private devotional life doesn’t really quite exist at the beginning of the Church. It develops as lay people are trying to imitate the lives of the people in religious communities. So, as you know, they are praying the psalms, some of them are praying all 150 psalms every day…lay people who could afford to buy a psalter would imitate the monks by praying the psalms.” Father Dave concurs that this is a practice he continues with the Paulist Fathers, though he jokes it’s not all 150 each day.

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Dr. Papandrea describes his own journey praying the psalms and how they led to this book. “I went through them in English, then Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. I ended up coming up with my own translation of excerpts of the psalm, taking all those [translations] into account. I pulled out excerpts that were, what I thought, the most prayable,” he says. “I pulled out only those parts where the psalmist is speaking directly to God and praying to God and came up with a new translation of those excerpts.” 

Father Dave notes that while creating a new translation may sound strange, “Every scriptures professor that I had in seminary, in order to get their degree, had to go back to the original manuscripts and translate from Hebrew or Greek to make a new translation for themselves.”

Dr., Papandrea continues, “My translation is not meant to replace your favorite Bible or what we use in the lectionary or in the Divine Office. But if you have psalms in your favorite translation that are so poetic that you find it hard to understand what the psalmist is talking about, there are places where I’ve sacrificed a little bit of the poetry for more clarity; comparing the two might help you.”

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He combines these translated excerpts with Lectio Divina, or a divine way of reading to immerse yourself in the Scripture. “While it’s a very good thing to study and interpret the scriptures, this is a different thing. This is just praying the scriptures; you’re not looking for some timeless interpretation,” Dr. Papandrea says. “What you’re looking for is the Holy Spirit to speak through the text to you and pray for you in the moment…it’s just between you and God, there are going to be passages of Scripture that resonate to your situation.”

Father Dave responds, “How you just described it is similar to when somebody comes up to me occasionally after Mass and says, ‘that part in your homily sounded like you were speaking right to me.’ I love when that happens, because I don’t know that person and I don’t know their situation, but the Holy Spirit allowed it to speak directly to them.”

Dr. Papandrea says, “The Psalms, in particular, are full of that kind of stuff. Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s because they are poetic and open to a lot of applications. If the psalm says, ‘God, I feel like I’m under a lot of pressure,’ there are probably a lot of people who can relate to that. So it’s not necessarily going to get specific, and yet by praying the words of the psalms, you are praying the word of God. There’s a lot of power there.”