Throughout November and December, I will be teaching a class on the Psalms at Barnett’s Pub. When read in our church services, I think we don’t give the psalm much thought. “Yes, yes – the Lord is good, he smashes his enemies, and we delight in his law. Let’s move on to the good stuff.”
I think this is symptomatic of two problems. First, we don’t understand the psalms. Second, and as a consequence of the first, we don’t incorporate the psalms into our lives.
The psalms are the prayers of the church in that they are the prayers of Israel. Sure, sometimes they don’t speak to where we are (right now, I don’t really feel as if my enemies are setting traps for me). However, I’m absolutely certain that there are Christians in the world for whom that is precisely what they are feeling. Therefore, we say the psalms on the behalf of the whole Church, lifting up our prayers, anxieties, and thanksgivings to the Most High for ourselves and for the whole of God’s people.
As Walter Brueggemann says, “The community uses, reuses, and rereuses these same words because the words are known to be adequate and because we have no better words to utter.” (The Psalms of Life & Faith, 33).
This is not to say that our own words are bad. By no means, but in times of great joy or deep despair, we may find it difficult to create our own language of praise or lament. The psalms speak for us.
“The inventiveness of our own prayer, however, stands always in an odd relation to the norm of the psalms themselves. The very psalms that invite our inventiveness also expose much of our inventiveness as trivial and trite, unworthy for this awesome conversation…We are at the same time speakers through countless generations, continuing the prayers and the speech begun for us long before us.” (TPLF, 34).
A Psalm a day keeps our egos away…