St. Augustine in reflecting on psalm 146 points out that, “A psalm is not a song like any other; it is sung to the accompaniment of a psaltery.” (A psaltery is a musical instrument similar to harp. It was designed to accompany song.) “Anyone who sings psalms does not therefore use the voice alone; he takes up the instrument known as the psaltery and, with the aid of his hands, harmonizes it with his voice. What about you? Do you want to sing and play psalms, which are praises to God? Then not only must your voice sing God’s praises, but your actions must keep in tune with your voice.” (Taken from Expositions of the Psalms, New City Press, 2004)
In the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah, we hear these words, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth…” But then the prophet goes on specifically to say, “seek justice, seek humility…” “Where is God?” “How might I grow in relationship with God?” These are two common questions of life and of the journey of faith. Both Augustine and Zephaniah advise that the starting point in answering these questions is to look at how we are living our lives.
If we praise God with our lips but our actions remain silent then we are out of tune. If we seek God but deny justice to our neighbor and puff ourselves up with pride then we will get nowhere. “If you want to praise God,” writes Augustine, “do not sing with your tongue alone but take up the psaltery of good actions as well…”
True praise of God consists of both voice and life.
It has been noted that in the Beatitudes we find a portrait of Christ. Jesus fully personifies each beatitude and in that he is “blessed”. In light of our analogy of psalm and psaltery we can also say that in the Beatitudes we hear the tune of Christ where voice and life are in harmony.
In each beatitude there is a choice made and an action taken. The choice and action is to turn toward God in every situation. In the time of sorrow – to seek God. In the time of confrontation and tension – to seek God. In the time of trial – to seek God. Tuning not just our words but our actions and our very lives toward Christ and in this we are “blessed” because God is encountered.
The insight of Augustine and Zephaniah is the same truth expressed in the Beatitudes – to begin seeking God we must look at how we are living our lives.