At nine o’clock every night, without fail, two men and two women from among the thirty members of a small, informal, Christian community in Huntingdonshire, England, gathered to read aloud antiphonally the entire Psalter, while the others retired for the night. The recitation lasted until about one o’clock in the morning. Every member of their community took turns participating in this night-time reading of the Psalter and no one served more than one night a week. The entire Psalter was also read during the day, every day. This day-time practice was shared by all the adult members of the community and older children. Everyone had an assigned hour at which to stop for prayer, on the hour, and read aloud ten or more psalms.


So who belonged to this small band of Christians? Nicholas Ferrar, a deacon in the Church of England (and close friend of the Anglican poet and priest, George Herbert), the members of Ferrar’s extended family and several close friends. The Ferrar home and nearby church at which they gathered was located in the tiny village of Little Gidding. The practice of reading aloud all 150 psalms twice each day took place between the years of 1626 and 1657.


It was said of Nicholas Ferrar that “the Psalms were constantly upon his lips, that he seldom made any decision without repeating to himself some appropriate verses, and that all through his life he never wearied in commending to others the study and the memorizing of those wonderful devotions.”[1]  The Ferrar family and their friends lived through perilous times, including near financial ruin, the plague of 1625, and after Ferrar’s death, the English Civil War. In praying the psalms, the community at Little Gidding found a way to express their deepest concerns and longings as they looked to the Lord for answers.


Verses such as, Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for my soul trusts in you, and under the shadow of your wings shall be my refuge, until this tribulation has passed (Psalm 57:1) would have had great resonance for these Christian men and women and their children. The psalms gave them a way to converse forthrightly with God about their struggles and offered them a means by which to remember and celebrate his marvelous works and gracious provisions.


It may be surprising to learn that the company of believers at Little Gidding spoke the psalms aloud, even if they were alone. We moderns are used to reading Scripture to ourselves, silently; however, this was not the practice of the Israelites, or the early Christians. I find that when I speak the psalms aloud, I hear and respond to these ancient prayers in a new way. You may want to give this a try.


In addition, consider calling a friend and reading together over the phone a psalm or two.  Every day at 11:30am Holy Trinity staff members who are in the office that day read together the psalm assigned for noon, found in our Lenten booklet, Forty Days with the Psalms. If you do not have a copy of this booklet, you can download a copy from our website. Consider the example set by the community at Little Gidding and find a way in this season of uncertainty to allow the psalms to address your concerns and ground your hope in our God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).


[1] A. L. Maycock, Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, (London: S. P. C. K., 1938), 220.