The Book of Psalms contains 150 songs, prayers, laments to God which have been with Jewish and Christian communities for thousands of years. Psalms express the range and depth of human emotions and experience in conversation with God. Nothing is held back. Psalms give word to anger, despair, desire for vengeance, and lament over the state of the world and one’s own situation. Psalms ring with joy, gratitude, and affirmation of trust in God and glory in all creation.
Do you like the psalms? Is the psalm a boring part of the service you seek to avoid? Is the poetry and often violent imagery off-putting? Psalm 45 I actively seek to avoid. Psalm 88 has no moment of joy, and yet can help us speak our own despair to God. Psalm 100 makes me leap up and bow down in gratitude. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.”
Most often psalms are sung or said in community with sung or chanted preferred. A few of the most joyful ones lead to dancing. Perhaps a psalm as dance inspiration surprises you. Pause for a moment and consider your own experience with psalms.
Here is my plug for the Psalms:
— Psalms are ancient and yet alive to us and our situation today.
— Jesus prayed the psalms and his words echo them:
“Into your hands, I commend my spirit” from Psalm 22.
— Mary’s Magnificat is grounded in the imagery of psalms.
— Reading psalms often will fill our own daily speech with poetry when we need words to reflect our feelings.
— Psalms are a deep well of support, joy, and solace.
— The poetry of psalms gives words for what we find hard to express.
— Psalms lay out a spiritual path starting with Psalm 1 which calls on us to plant our steps firmly in God’s eternal law to the Hallelujahs of Psalm 150 and all the life in-between.
Allow psalms to come into your life. Maybe you have a translation that is stilted; maybe you have hit upon too many verses of despair or anger untempered by signs of God’s love and constancy. Seek, explore among psalms and different translations.
Below I offer a beautiful translation of Psalm 1, v. 3 by Lynn Baumann.*
But the blessed ones grow strong as living trees, Their roots sunk deep and hidden Beside the flowing streams which come from you And through life’s passing seasons, They do not cease to bear a plenitude of fruit Nor do they fade from giving shade of leaf that covers all with good.
* Lynn Baumann, Songs Ancient and New