Archives for July 2009

Psalms – Just can't get enough

Psalter – more fun facts:

from Qumran: The earliest extra-biblical evidence of interpreting the Psalms comes from Qumran, where 4 fragmentary commentaries were discovered. Only the book of Isaiah, w/5, surpasses the Psalms in this regard. The number of copies of the Psalter, 31, exceeds all other biblical books (the Book of Duet is 2nd w/25, and Isaiah is 3rd w/ 18).

Book of Psalms most quoted OT book in the NT.

Not surprisingly, the Psalter is the 1st book to appear in print (1477)

In British North America, the first book printed was the Bay Psalm Book in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Psalms – More!

Bourgeault: “We are dealing with a group of poems that have been made hallowed by usage! Made holy b/c so many people, in our tradition, have used them, loved them and processed their own spiritual growth with them. As we walk on this path, we are walking on a well tread path.”

Bellinger: “At the center of the Bible and the center of our spiritual lives.”

Luther: “If you want to see the holy Christian Church painted in glowing colors and in a form which is really alive, and if you want this to be done in a miniature, you must get hold of the Psalter, and there you will have in your possession a fine, clear, pure mirror which will show you what Christianity really is.”

Athanasius: “It is my view that in the words of this book encompass the whole human life, its basic spiritual conduct and as well its occasional movements and thoughts, is comprehended and contained. Nothing to be found in Human life is omitted.”

Luther: “[The Psalter] might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.”

Bonhoeffer: “The Psalter occupies a unique place in the Holy Scriptures. It is God’s Word and, with a few exceptions, the prayer of men as well.”

Brueggemann: “In the last analysis, the Psalms have what power they have for us because we know life to be like that. In a society that engages in great denial and grows numb by avoidance and denial, it is important to recover and use these Psalms that speak the truth about us.”

Bellinger: “The psalm is a verbal icon.”


I have seen too many stars to let the darkness overwhelm me.

~ Macrina Wiederkehr


I was first exposed to a classification of the Psalms by Dr. Bellinger – he was our guest lecturer on the Psalms, and was a real blessing. The classification of the Psalms is a very useful tool to help me find the right Psalm for the right situation. I was particularly struck by the fact that there are more hymns of complaint than any other type. (Wonder what that is telling us?!)

In his lecture to us on the using the psalms, Dr. Bellinger pointed out:

*The psalms provide a model for prayer – pray the way things really are. (Realistic)
*They try to put life and faith together
*Contain bold acts of faith in the midst of trouble and woe

The Psalms portray God as both frightening and liberating. They show him as our judge and our comforter. God is portrayed as unchanging love, steadfast love, and trustworthiness.

The Psalms portray human life as it is. Their value stems from their transparency and from the fact that they are not ‘cleaned up versions of life’ They express the full range of human emotions.

I use the Psalms frequently with the people that I serve as a spiritual director for. The Psalter serves as a tool to help them see that it’s okay to be emotionally honest with God. God can handle it. Sometimes I think that people get stuck in a ‘theology of niceness’ and so when they experience the darker emotions and situations that are an inevitable part of life, there is a separation that occurs between them and God because of preconceptions about the ‘inappropriateness’ of their feelings for a Christian. The Psalms expand the appropriateness of human emotion to encompass ALL human emotions not just hope and joy, but fear, anger, and despair.

The other way that I use the psalms (and other pieces of scripture for that matter) is analogous to the prescription that a doctor might give. For example, one of the women that I direct is struggling with her trust in God’s provision for her. When we met Sunday afternoon, I suggested a couple of Psalms for her to use in her daily devotions. I trust that God will speak to her through these words of Scripture by meeting her where she is at in her journey, helping her voice her deepest concerns and desires, and then surrounding her with the assurance of His presence and concern for her. Scripture is powerful medicine for the soul.

I believe that one of the gifts I have to offer is that of helping people connect with scripture passages in ways that help them move closer to God.

I believe that Joan Chittister articulates the value of using the psalms devotionally well:

    “The Psalms pray out of the struggles of the Psalmist in search of God, out of the struggles of a people in search of life, and out of a consciousness of the cosmic and the universal. Praying the Psalms and the Scriptures, I see with the eyes of Christ, celebrate God in creation, grapple with my own emotional immaturity as the Psalmist did, insert myself into the struggles of the whole people of God.”

When I use the Psalter as my prayer book, I am connecting with a tradition that stretches back through all of the Christian church and through Judaism to the period of the monarchies. Thousands of years of practice! These words have become hallowed ground, not because they are Scripture. No, they have become holy by their use over the years by people just like me – people looking for a way to draw near to God. The words and images found in the Psalter are the same words and images used by Jesus as he attended worship and prayed. They are the best ‘roadmap’ for the Way that I know of!!