John Cassian (360-435) was an Eastern Christian monk and theologian who brought Eastern monastic spirituality to the West. The following is adapted from his Conferences.
Nourished by the Scriptures, we should learn to penetrate so deeply into the meaning of the psalms that we sing them not as though they had been composed by the prophet, but as if we ourselves had written them, as if this psalm were our own private prayer to God, uttered amid the deepest compunction of our heart.
The Psalms Are Our Own
We should think of the psalms as having been specially composed for us, and recognize that what they are expressing is real-not simply historically so in the life and person of the prophet, but now, today, they are being fulfilled in our own lives. When we pray in this way, we will find that the Scriptures lie ever more clearly open to us. They will be exposed to our gaze, heart and sinew.
Psalms Touch Our Lives
Experience will not only allow us to know the psalms intimately, but will actually lead us to anticipate what they convey. The meaning of the words comes through to us not just by means of commentaries but by what we ourselves have gone through.
Seized by the identical feelings in which a psalm was composed or sung we find ourselves becoming, as it were, its author. We find ourselves anticipating its ideas instead of just following them. We have a sense of the psalm even before we make out the meaning of the words.
Psalms Evoke Memories
The sacred words stir memories within us, memories of the daily attacks which we have endured and are enduring, marks of our negligence or profits of our zeal, the good things of providence and the deceits of the enemy, the subtle tricks of memory, the mistakes of human frailty, the improvidence of blindness.
Psalms Mirror Our Lives
All these things we will find expressed in the psalms. They are the bright mirror in which we become more profoundly conscious of what is happening to us in our lives. We are made sensitive by our own experience. It is no longer a question of second-hand knowledge. We are in touch with reality.
Their meaning is not like something entrusted to our memory but rather, something we give birth to in the depths of our heart through an intuition that forms part of our being. We enter into their meaning not because of what we have read but because of what we have ourselves experienced.
Psalms Connect Us to God
This method of prayer does not involve the contemplation of some image or other. It is marked by no sounds or words. It is rather an outburst of flame in the soul, an indescribable exaltation, an insatiable thrust of the soul to God. Free of what is sensed and seen, wordless in its groans and sighs, the soul pours out its prayer to God.