May 9, 2014
The One Year Book of Psalms
As a Christian poet, I’m naturally (and, most likely, supernaturally) drawn to the biblical Psalms. Over the years I’ve collected a number of books that approach these prayer-poems from various angles, ranging from poetic retellings to lengthy discussions about as dry as parchment left out in the sun. However, The One Year Book of Psalms brings another perspective by placing a lively New Living Translation of each Psalm on one page with a related word or reading on the page adjacent.
Published by Tyndale House, this highly recommended book gives us entry into “exquisite poetry, crisp theology, and stirring history,” but, as the Preface goes on to say, Psalms “are far more than all that. Most of all, they are intensely personal. The Psalms meet us where we are, and they take us to where we ought to be. You don’t have to dress up for the Psalms. Come as you are.”
We’re free to bring our real selves to these biblical writings mainly because the Psalmists did! Their honest responses to life and their vulnerability in laying themselves open before God (and us too) give credibility to their faith whether they're expressing their fears, worries, laments, thanksgivings, or praise. We, too, have been there, working through our doubts and bouncing along our up and down emotions, so I felt stunned when I heard someone admit, “I don’t like reading Psalms! I just don’t get them.”
Frankly, this could mean low esteem of God or high expectations for ourselves, straining to “be good,” in which cases, the Psalms might seem shocking. For most of us though, Psalms can become remote whenever the customs, situations, or surroundings seem too distant from our own experiences or background for us to connect well. But, that’s where the readings accompanying each Psalm in this book come to our rescue!
For example, Psalm 24 “may have been written in honor of the Ark coming at last to Mount Zion (I Chronicles 13:8), but that’s only part of the story…. As it approached the city, the gates were commanded to open. The Ark came in, and King David came in," then David’s call to “Open up, ancient gates” not only spoke to that present moment, but also prophetically to the coming of the King of Glory, Jesus Christ.
Many Psalms and, indeed, the whole Bible point to Jesus, so when we read Psalm 68 and see “The Psalmist’s View of the World” where “The kings of all the other nations are coming to pay tribute to the Lord in Jerusalem," we have hope for the future as peoples everywhere return to God.
Besides helping us to envision the situations, scenes, or prophetic possibilities in many Psalms, the adjacent readings in this book also give us a glimpse of some ways the Psalms have spoken to and through social reformers, historical and political leaders, hymn writers, and poets, each of whom brings new insights.
For example, Isaac “Watts had written his first hymn in his teenage years as a protest to his father, a minister. Watts had complained about singing from the old psalter that had been around for over a hundred years, and his father told him, ‘If you don’t like these hymns, write better ones.’ So he did.” Watts then “wrote metrical versions of all the Psalms” with his timeless rendering of Psalm 98 coming to us as “Joy to the World.” Later, George Frideric Handel, who was partially paralyzed and recovering from “bankruptcy after several musical failures,” produced the music for Watts’ poem in the gorgeous masterpiece known as Handel’s’ Messiah.
Lord willing, these blessed prayer-poems and the readings about them will continue to uplift, inspire, and empower us for the work we've been given to do in Jesus' Name.
© 2014, Mary Sayler, reviewer
The One Year Book of Psalms, paperback