Psalms- Intro


Series on Psalms for MRMC

To MRMC, a people whom I love, and

‘whose hearts are steady’  (Psalm 112.8)

‘Be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’  [Ephesians 5.18b-20]

For many years I have made it my practice to read two psalms a day, which takes me through the Psalter about four times a year.  I have found these ancient songs/poems have an incredibly powerful sustaining and nurturing place in my life of prayer and discipleship.  As you will see from some of the quotes below, the Psalms speak to all of our life situations in robust, honest, angry and joyful language.  There is no doubt as to why they have sustained Jewish and Christian communities for some 3,000 years.

Beginning this week I am inviting you into a pilgrimage with me through the Psalms. Once or twice a week I will forward you my meditations on a psalm.  I invite you to live with it for a few days: to note words and images that strike you, and perhaps even to memorize some.  And I would love to hear your feedback on your reading and praying these ancient yet contemporary songs.

OT scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that the Psalms can be roughly grouped around three general themes: poems of orientation, poems of disorientation, and poems of new orientation.  Our prayers and our faith life exist in such various and sometimes unpredictable experiences.

First, he writes, human life consists of seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude in the reliability and generosity of God.

Second, human life also exists in seasons of anguish, hurt, loss, and death.  These experiences evoke the language of despair, self-pity, and resentment.  Such seasons of lament are known to most of us.

And finally, human life consists of seasons of surprise when we are overwhelmed by the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through our deep grief.  Where there has been only darkness, there now is light.    [Walter Brueggemann – The Message of the Psalms, p.19].

There have been many great writers on the Psalms and why they are important.  I offer you a number of quotes to stimulate your interest and your thinking as you embark on this adventure with me.  

Writers on the Psalms:

‘The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance. I am not saying that this is so pure or profound a thing as the love of God reached by the greatest Christian saints and mystics. But I am not comparing it with that, I am comparing it with the merely dutiful ‘church-going’ and laborious ‘saying our prayers’ to which most of us are, thank God not always, but often, reduced. Against that it stands out as something astonishingly robust, virile, and spontaneous; something we may regard with an innocent envy and may hope to be infected by as we read.’        [C.S. Lewis – Reflections on the Psalms]. 

‘The Psalms articulate the gospel in a nutshell.’  [Martin Luther].

‘The psalms are an anatomy of the soul, articulating every facet of the cost and joy of life with God.  For there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror…. Here the Holy Spirit has drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of [persons] are want to be agitated.’    [John Calvin]

‘The psalmists are not interested in human potential; they are passionate about God – the obedience-shaping, will-transforming, sin-revoking, praise-releasing God.  [E. Peterson – Answering God, p.14].

‘But to the modern reader, the psalms can seem impenetrable: how in the world can we read, let alone pray, these angry and often violent poems from an ancient warrior culture? At a glance, they seem overwhelmingly patriarchal, ill-tempered, moralistic, vengeful, and often seem to reflect precisely what is wrong with our world. And that's the point, or part of it. As one reads the psalms every day, it becomes clear that the world they depict is not really so different from our own; the fourth-century monk Athanasius wrote that the psalms "become like a mirror to the person singing them," and this is as true now as when he wrote it. The psalms remind us that the way we judge each other, with harsh words and acts of vengeance, constitutes injustice, and they remind us that it is the powerless in society who are overwhelmed when injustice becomes institutionalized. Psalm 35, like many psalms, laments God's absence in our unjust world, even to the point of crying, "How long, O Lord, will you look on?" (v. 17). I take an odd comfort in recognizing that the ending of Psalm 12 is as relevant now as when it was written thousands of years ago: "Protect us forever from this generation / [for] . . . the worthless are praised to the skies" (vv. 7-8).

And, for the officially optimistic version of much popular Christianity, we do well to remember Emily Dickinson's insight that "Pain--is missed--in Praise": that is, that we will try to jump too quickly from one to the other, omitting the necessary but treacherous journey in between, sentimentalizing both pain and praise in the process.’     [Kathleen Norris]



Answering God by Eugene Peterson.

          A wonderful book written by a pastor.  With Peterson as guide we learn to pray the psalms with our eyes wide open!

Psalms for Everyone by John Goldingay.

          A popular reading of the Psalms with commentary and personal experience linked to each of the 150 psalms.