Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rockin' the Psalms

There are many advantages to being involved in the Education for Ministry program as a co-mentor. First of all, you get to keep going with your group, listening and learning, and delighting in seeing minds open and expand as folks come to really own their participation in life and liturgy of their church and how their faith can inform and shape their actions and opinions.   And there is the bonus that you are on a listserve with hundreds of other people that are leading seminar groups across the country.

OK, sometimes that is not a bonus.  Sometimes that can be a pain in the neck because your inbox gets flooded with a gazillion emails on a topic that may not have been of any interest.  This year, most of what has been all a-buzz is the new curriculum, and the approach Sewanee is taking to presenting the material.  One big difference with the First Year approach is that rather than reading a book (or two) of the Bible while also reading the material from Sewanee which offers interpretation of the Scripture.  In the end, that's a lot of reading!  This year, those in the beginning of the program read the Scripture one week, and then read the chapter from the textbook which offers an interpretation of what they've read.  For me, that's a lot easier.  The other thing that's different is that they've changed when we'll read certain passages.  And--thanks be to God!--that means we get the Psalms now, in the middle of the program, rather than as a toss away at the end of the year.

I love the Psalms.  They are raw emotion, exuberant joy, fall-on-your-face praise of the holy.  They are laments, songs, and shouts of "Hallelujah!"   And they are the one book that comes the closest to speaking to my heart consistently every time I encounter it, which is daily with the daily office.  I love leading people in reading the psalms when we read it responsively, either by the half-verse or the whole verse.  I had such an experience last week on Wednesday when we were reading Psalm 118, responsively at the asterisk:

1Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
    his mercy endures for ever.
2Let Israel now proclaim, *
   "His mercy endures for ever."

3Let the house of Aaron now proclaim, *
   "His mercy endures for ever."
4Let those who fear the LORD now proclaim, *
   "His mercy endures for ever."
5I called to the LORD in my distress; *
    the LORD answered by setting me free.
6The LORD is at my side, therefore I will not fear; *
    what can anyone do to me?
7The LORD is at my side to help me; *
    I will triumph over those who hate me.
8It is better to rely on the LORD *
    than to put any trust in flesh.
9It is better to rely on the LORD *
    than to put any trust in rulers.

I was having a blast leading this!  Even though we were reciting it, I could hear the musicality in this song of reassurance and where to place our trust.  Not in those man-made "things" but in the eternal things that cannot be so easily seen: the unseen and mysterious nature of God.  Because, with God, in God, and through God, we are given the tools necessary for us to survive even in the times when we are being put to the test.

I was a little surprised to read on the listserve that there were actually people out there who don't like the psalms.  I was also scratching my head when some mentors said that they would have preferred if there was an academic presentation of the psalms first before people read them.  But, really: do you need to have an academic review of this highly-evocative material in order to "get it"?  Yes, I suppose one might want to learn some of the "facts" behind the psalms: 119 is the longest, David is thought to have been the primary author.  But when I think that as Jesus was left to die in a painful and brutal manner, he reportedly recited the beginning lines of Psalm 22: "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" I have to think that this is one book in the Bible that really doesn't require a PhD interpretation as much as it requires a willingness to open to an experience of God that runs the emotional gamut.  For some, clearly, this is a challenge.


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