Tag Archives: Psalms

Worship and the Psalms

“Good liturgy, whether formal or informal, ought never to be simply a corporate emoting session, however ‘Christian,’ but a fresh and awed attempt to inhabit the great unceasing liturgy that is going on all the time in the heavenly realms. (That’s what those great chapters, Revelation 4 and 5, are all about.) The Psalms offer us a way of joining a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures. Not to try to inhabit them, while continuing to invent non-psalmic ‘worship’ based on our own feelings of the moment, risks being like a spoiled child who, taken to the summit of Table Mountain with the city and the ocean spread out before him, refuses to gaze at the view because he is playing with his Game Boy.”

~ N. T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential, 6.

 

The Psalms

A couple of weeks ago Madeline walked into our room at 7:00 a.m. and came to my side of the bed. She said, “Dad, have you read Psalm 91? It’s really good.”  She had woken us up, so I mumbled something about “Probably” and “I’ll read it when I got up.” I wish now I had just sat up and paid attention, because she was so excited. It was as if she’d made amazing discovery.  I have no idea how she landed on that particular Psalm.  Probably a random choice.  She had read it on her own in the wee hours of the morning and was thrilled by it.

After we got up I read the Psalm and she told me how much she loves the Psalms.  I was thrilled by her excitement. Still am.  What’s remarkable is that we did not directly influence her to do this; we did not suggest that, “Hey, why don’t you try reading something from the Bible some time.” And if we had, we most likely wouldn’t have suggested a 6-year-old start with the Psalms. Her grandma gave her a Bible a couple of years ago and she just decided one morning recently that she would read it.

The other day I decided that it was time that I give Bible reading after supper another go. I tried a couple of years ago, but it was chaos: the kids didn’t listen and I just got frustrated and angry.  But it seems to be going well now–Madeline, at any rate, has the spark of scriptural interest in her (again, through shamefully little direct influence from us), Luke can be convinced to at least sit quietly, and Olivia just copies Luke. There are varying degrees of comprehension happening at the table, but comprehension isn’t really the point. I think it’s good for them to just hear the stories.

For whatever reason, I chose the story of Joseph. I had forgotten that it goes on for a number of chapters, but that’ s just as well. Maybe I can stretch it out until the Advent season. I wasn’t sure what to do with the bit about Potiphar’s wife looking at Joseph “lustfully” and trying to seduce him, not knowing what sort of questions would arise out of that episode. Luke and Olivia were oblivious and Madeline just took it in stride.  I explained and editorialized the text more than I probably should have. It’s easy to worry too much about what our children hear, but if I believe these words are somehow divine, should I censor them or should I just let them go? Did the Isrealites censor their stories for their children? Who knows.

I have a very low-church upbringing, but the other day I taught the kids about concluding the reading of a passage of scripture with “The word of the Lord” and the appropriate response. That night Madeline suggested that she could read a Psalm every night with the Bible story.  So tonight I read about Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams and then Madeline read Psalm 1.  She did very well.

When she finished reading, I said, “The word of the Lord.”

And Madeline said, “Ummm…Thanks be to God!”

And that just warms the cockles of my heart.

Praying with the Psalms

The Psalms of David and Solomon and others have been the prayers of the Church for 2,000 years.  In the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to read the Psalms as prayers as well, to varying degrees of success.  Most of my Bibles have the morning and evening prayers from the Book of Common Prayer Psalter indicated in the Psalms.

As I pray, I sometimes substitute my own problems and stresses for those of the Psalmists.  This isn’t entirely crazy–as I say, the Church has made those Psalms its own prayers since the beginning.  On the other hand, I often find myself feeling a bit whiny, crying out to God through a Psalm about the stresses of life–this paper that’s due, that job that’s getting busy, etc.–as if they are the same thing as David’s enemies surrounding him on all sides and the other oppressions and persecutions against the Psalmists.

It feels particularly lame when I consider that there are plenty of people in this world who face real persecution and oppression and attacks from all sides on a daily basis.  People who would see peaceful deadlines and a steady paycheque as an answer to these prayers.

I wonder if when the Psalmists spoke of oppression and troubles he sometimes meant something more mundane or innocuous or every-day, like a nagging concubine, or an poorly chosen palace cook, or maybe a deadline of some kind.

Maybe over the years our image of the Psalmists has become more heroic than they really were.  I know David did face a lot of hardship and some of his Psalms correspond to those events.  But surely they were still human with daily human problems–did those make their way into the Psalms?  We all know those dramatic types who, by their descriptions of their everyday, really do sound like they are oppressed.  Maybe some of the Psalmists were dramatic in this way, too?

Somehow I doubt it.  I imagine I entertain those thoughts in order to justify my own minor problems.

But how else can we make these sometimes agonizing, desperate, pleading Psalms our own?