When we read the Book of Psalms, we find that King David used to speak to himself. So did other psalmists, sometimes with great energy. They seemed to think the habit was not just acceptable but necessary for their spiritual health.
Since the Christian tradition has always encouraged the recitation and praying of the psalms, I guess this means that we, too, are encouraged to speak to ourselves.
In Psalm 43:5, for example, David says: "Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why do you sigh within me? Hope in God! For I shall again be thanking him, in the presence of my savior and my God."
Who is it that David confronts here? His own soul! In doing so, he's showing us how to deal with a common problem: the difficulties we face when our inner feelings conflict with our convictions.
I'm not so much talking about those times when our inner convictions are different from what we profess. I mean those times when we recognize, though others perhaps don't, that our inner spiritual life seems less than what we're expecting or want it to be.
At one level, we all experience this dilemma every day, when the inner voices of temptation and discouragement battle for control of our hearts.
On a deeper level, we may sometimes experience long-standing inner struggles with elements of the Church's theology or practice that we just don't understand or even accept yet, although we've told no one about it. It might even be a festering bitterness toward those in the Church who insist on living contrary to the teachings and values of our faith.
At an even deeper level, this struggle might reflect what spiritual writers such as St. John of the Cross have called the "dark night of the soul," a sense of isolation and even abandonment by God.
When what we hope to experience in our inner being runs contrary to the convictions of our faith, and we're certain no one we know could understand, how do we deal with it?
David's words suggest that he experienced this kind of dilemma. He had known times of great joy and confidence (see Ps 18), even times when he brimmed with glad songs (see Ps 40). But now, in his inner being, he felt "downcast," he "groaned within."
Had his faith left him? Was he no longer a believer? Was he lost in doubt?
Apparently not, given the course of his life as Scripture records it. Yet neither did he try merely to brush off his discomfort. Instead, he continued to act in faith, regardless of how he felt.
David first commanded his soul "to hope in God," to turn its attention away from the distractions of trials and temptations, to turn in God's direction instead. Then David chose to "praise God," for this is the correct attitude for all of life.
Isn't this exactly why the Church requires her members to attend Mass at least once a week -- not just when we feel like it? For we need not only sacramental graces and Scripture readings to help us live in obedience, but also the opportunity to gather together as Christ's Body to praise Him, however we may feel.
According to a recently published book, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta felt downcast in her soul throughout much of her adult life. But did she wait until she no longer felt this way to live out her calling, to show the love of Jesus to the poorest of the poor?
Not at all. Instead, she persevered heroically in the practice of her faith, the fulfillment of her vocation. And I suspect that she was able to do that at least in part because she talked to herself.
I can just imagine how, even when her soul was "groaning" within her, as David's soul had groaned, Teresa found ways to tell it to hope in God. Then she praised Him, not just with her lips, but with her entire life.
So should we. Starting now. TCA