“These are a few of my Favorite Things (3)…”

Mary Lynn and I watch a couple of food shows regularly on television – Top Chef, Chopped, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and our very favorite right now, Chef Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible.   It’s by watching these shows that the word “amuse-bouche” has been added to my vocabulary.  Here’s what Wikipedia does with it –

An amuse-bouche [amyzbuʃ] is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but, when served, are done so according to the chef’s selection alone. These are served as a little tingler for the taste buds both to prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef’s approach to cooking.  The term is French, literally translated to “mouth amuser”. The plural form is amuse-bouche or amuse-bouches. 

Now, I’ve never actually had an “amuse-bouche” as part of a meal at a restaurant.  Tortilla chips and salsa don’t count, I’m told.  But one day I think I would like to, not just for the culinary experience of it, which I’m sure would be delightful, but more for the chance to say “amuse-bouche” meaningfully in a conversation.  It’s such a great word… “amuse-bouche”

Anyone who is familiar with praying the Daily Office is familiar with the liturgical equivalent of an “amuse-bouche.”  They’re called “Psalm Prayers.”  Most of the church’s order of Morning and Evening Prayer are the Psalms.  Depending on the resource you use, all 150 Psalms get prayed through weekly or monthly.  There have actually been some monastics who prayed through all 150 Psalms daily, and the Rosary with its 150 beads is a “poor-man’s” substitute for this spiritual discipline.  In the monastic practice of praying the Psalms, it became customary for there to be a period of silence after each Psalm had been sung for reflection on what had just been recited, and then for there to be a prayer offered together by the community which elaborated on some part of the content of the Psalm that had just been sung.  These prayers are called “Psalm Prayers.”  In his explanation of these special little prayers, the Rector of the St. James Anglican Church quoted an Anglican monastic’s observation about their use –
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What good does it do you to sing the Psalms faithfully if, when you stop singing, you do not want to entreat God? Let each one who has ceased chanting pray and entreat the Lord with all humility, so that what he utters with the lips he may deserve with God’s help to fulfill in deed. Just as singing the Psalms, brethren, is like sowing a field, praying is like the sower who cultivates it by burying and covering the ground … So whenever a person stops chanting, let him not stop praying if he wants a harvest of divine mercy to grow in the field of his heart. (http://stjames.k1marketing.com)
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“Psalm Prayers” are the liturgical equivalent of an “amuse-bouche.”  Here are several of them from my old copy of Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours (St. Paul Editions), from some very familiar Psalms–

§ For Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my Shepherd”

Lord Jesus Christ, shepherd of your church, you give us new birth in then waters of baptism, anoint us with saving oil, and call is to salvation at your table.  Dispel the terrors of death and the darkness of error.  Lead your people along safe paths, that they may rest securely in you and live for ever in your Father’s house.

§ For Psalm 91 – “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High”

Lord Jesus Christ, when tempted by the devil;, you remained loyal to your Father whose angels watched over you at his command. Guard your Church and keep us safe from the plague of sin so that we may remain loyal to the day we enjoy your salvation and your glory.

§ For Psalm 100 – “Enter His courts with Thanksgiving”

With joy and gladness we cry out to you, Lord, and ask you: open our hearts to sing your praises and announcer your goodness and truth.

§ For Psalm 121 – “I lift my eyes to the mountains”

Lord Jesus Christ, you have prepared a quiet place for us in your Father’s eternal home.  Watch over our welfare on this perilous journey, shade us from the burning heat of day, and keep our lives free of evil until the end.

§ For Psalm 130 – “Out of the Depths”

Listen with compassion to our prayers, Lord.  The forgiveness of sins is yours.  Do not look on the wrong we have done, but grant us your merciful kindness.

§ For Psalm 139 – “Thou hast searched me and known me”

You watch over heaven and earth, Lord Jesus.  Your death brought light to the dead, your resurrection gave joy to the saints; your ascension made the angels rejoice.  Your power exceeds all power.  Lead us to life eternal, and watch over us with your love. May your friends be filled with honor and join you in heaven.

By definition an “amuse-bouche” is not the whole meal, but just a tasty little bite that is designed to prepare the palette for what’s about to come.  I like “Psalm-Prayers” – they’re one of my favorite things – because they alert me to the central meaning of the Psalm that is about to be prayed, or that has just been prayed.  They are certainly not substitutes for praying the Psalm itself.  But by performing their very own limited function, I find that they help me to approach each Psalm better prepared to receive what it has for someone who is trying to pray it with understanding and openness. The build anticipation and expectation.  A resource that I’ve found that is especially effective in helping me to do this is “The Abbreviated Psalter of the Venerable Bede.”

The Venerable Bede was a 7th century British Benedictine who was a prolific author.  His “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” is regarded by many as the first “great” work of English literature.  As a Benedictine monk, Bede prayed the Psalms every day of his adult life, eight hours each day!  With a working knowledge of the Psalms born of this daily devotion, Bede crafted his “Abbreviated Psalter” for his own personal prayer, meditation and reflection.  It consists of “extracts carefully chosen from each of the Psalms to represent their essence.”  The criterion he used in his selection of these verses for his abbreviation of each Psalm was, according to the Benedictine scholar Benedicta Ward, a concern that the “meaning of the whole Psalm was retained – that it would be possible to recall the whole Psalm from these clues –  and that it be a key to the entire Psalm.”  So, here is what Bede did with the same six familiar Psalms that I used earlier to introduce the “Psalm-Prayers” –

§ For Psalm 23 – “And goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life” (6)

§ For Psalm 91 – “For you, Lord, are my hope” (9)

§ For Psalm 100 – “Serve the Lord in joy; come before him in praise.  Know that it is the Lord who is God; it is he who made us, and we are his.” (2-3)

§ Psalm 121 – “I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, whence help is to come for me.” (1)

§ For Psalm 130 – “Lord, hear my voice; let your ears become attentive to the voice of my entreaty.” (2)

§ For Psalm 139 – “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I lie in hell, you are present.” (8)
By learning from Bede – a man whose life and faith were deeply shaped by the Psalms – the “key” to each Psalm, I find that I am better equipped to pray it meaningfully.  And what Bede did with the Psalms, Sarah Wilson writing for the Lutheran Forum did with every book of the Bible (www.lutheranforum.org). You may quibble with a verse here or a verse there in her “The Bible in 66 Verses,” but the bottom line is that she took the time and made the effort – which translated means, she became familiar enough with the entire Bible – to be able to do this.

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The Bible in 66 Verses

Genesis – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (1:1)

Exodus – “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (20:2)

Leviticus – “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’” (9:2)

Numbers – Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.” (10:35)

Deuteronomy – “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (6:4)

Joshua – “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (24:15)

Judges – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (17:6)

Ruth – Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (1:16)

I Samuel – And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” (8:7)

II Samuel – David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

I Kings – “Listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive.” (8:30)

II Kings – But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (5:8)

I Chronicles – “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all.” (29:11)

II Chronicles – The king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. (34:30)

Ezra – They kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. (6:22)

Nehemiah – Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (8:10)

Esther – “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14)

Job – “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” (38:4)

Psalms – The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (23:1)

Proverbs – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (1:7)

Ecclesiastes – Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (1:2)

Song of Solomon – My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. (2:16)

Isaiah – But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (53:5)

Jeremiah – But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (31:33)

Lamentations – The Lord has become like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel; He has swallowed up all its palaces; He has laid in ruins its strongholds, and He has multiplied in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation. (2:5)

Ezekiel – And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” (37:3)

Daniel – I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. (7:13)

Hosea – I will betroth you to Me forever. I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. (2:19)

Joel –  And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (2:28)

Amos – But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)

Obadiah –  For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. (1:15)

Jonah – I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. (2:2)

Micah – He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

Nahum – Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off. (1:15)

Habbakkuk – Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him; but the righteous shall live by his faith. (2:4)

Zephaniah – Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do His just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord. (2:3)

Haggai – The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts. (2:9)

Zechariah – They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. (7:12)

Malachi – Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord Whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (3:1)

Matthew – You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (5:48)

Mark – For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (10:45)

Luke – “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (15:32)

John – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (11:25)

Acts – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (1:8)

Romans – For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (3:28)

I Corinthians – For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1:25)

II Corinthians – For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (5:21)

Galatians – Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (4:6)

Ephesians – One Lord, one faith, one baptism. (4:5)

Philippians – And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:8)

Colossians – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (1:15)

I Thessalonians – Rejoice always. (5:16)

II Thessalonians – But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. (3:3)

I Timothy – Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (6:12)

II Timothy – By the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (1:14)

Titus – He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (3:5)

Philemon – I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. (12)

Hebrews – Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (12:1)

James – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (1:27)

I Peter – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (2:9)

II Peter – He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (1:4)

I John – Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (4:8)

II John – And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. (5)

III John – I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (4)

Jude – Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (3)

Revelation – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (21:1)
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Spiritual “amuse-bouches” like “Psalm-Prayers,” “The Abbreviated Psalter of the Venerable Bede,” ” and “The Bible in 66 Verses” are some of my favorite things.  I really like these enjoyable bite-sized servings of truth and inspiration.  And while I would be spiritually malnourished if they were all I ever “ate,” when enjoyed together with regular and well-balanced servings of truth and inspiration, I find that they are delightful and beneficial snacks.  I  encourage you to enjoy some yourself.    DBS+

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