O Lord, open Thou My lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.
How many times have I heard this phrase, spoken by the priest at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, and missed how bold and vulnerable a prayer it truly is? After all, if "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks," then asking God to open my mouth is to lay bare my heart before him. And this, indeed, gives me pause. When the floodgates are opened, what will spill out of the innermost parts of my being? Will it be selfishness, bitterness, and fear, or faith, hope, and love? How, really, do the words of my mouth—streaming from the meditations of my heart—become pleasing in the sight of God? How do I fill my heart so that my mouth sings praise?
My first month at seminary brought all of this to the forefront for me when I found myself having to readjust my sense of a daily schedule to not only include academic classes, but morning and evening chapel services as well. Having come from a decade in the workforce as a school administrator and teacher, going to church twice a day was definitely a change for me. And—just to clarify—it was hard. It was hard to not skip Matins and sleep in. It was hard to pause my work to go to Vespers in the evening. But even harder than making time in my day, it was harder to make room in my heart for this daily cycle of services.
Like a new rule of prayer or a spiritual discipline, I found that the struggle was ultimately an internal one. I had come to seminary to learn about the Church. How could I expect to learn about it if I wasn't also participating in its life? If I believed it was valuable enough for me to pause my career to come here to study, could I also believe it was valuable enough for me to pause my day, to go to chapel to worship?
Then one day at the end of the first month of school, I was standing in the kitchen, washing dishes and singing to myself, when I suddenly realized something. I was singing a hymn from Matins! When had I learned it, exactly? How long had I been singing it? When did it become the first song on my heart like that? My heart filled with joy. Today—this moment at least—when my mouth opened, it had brought forth praise. These services had indeed been forming me unaware, filling my kardia and nous with a song of truth and worship. Perhaps this was just as important as all the good and meaningful things I was learning in my classes. Perhaps even more!
Fast forward to Lent and Holy Week here at St. Vladimir's, and this lesson was amplified again. Lenten services were longer and multiplied. During Holy Week, we spent 5–7 hours in services, way more than I had ever had opportunity to do when I was working back home. My feet hurt, my voice came and went, and my eyes grew heavy during a few of the Scripture readings. This was indeed a new kind of spiritual (and physical!) work for me. Yet, it is no accident that the context of the verse "Open Thou my lips" is within the penitential Psalm 50/51, for in the context of that Lenten preparation I similarly found myself struggling between being laid bare before God and begging Him to fill me with His mercy. And of course, when we began to sing the Paschal hymns—"Let God Arise," "The Angel Cried," and "Christ is Risen from the dead trampling down death by death!"—how could my heart not burst forth with praise.
Sandy Hermansen is a first year Master of Arts student from Oklahoma. She holds a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Bachelor's degree in English Literature. Sandy is a professional educator who has worked as a school teacher and administrator. As such, she is interested in the intersection of the worlds of education and Orthodoxy, and desires to have her studies here at the seminary inform her work in education after she finishes her degree.