If you’ve been with me long, I think you know quite well of my love for the psalms, and that this has been a renewed love over the past few years, particularly through a short little book by Eugene Peterson that is still turning my world upside down: Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer.
My re-love for the psalms has come mostly at the simple reminder that they are primarily prayers. They are millennia-old prayers prayed billions and billions of times by billions of people of all walks of life, all genders, all church traditions, all socio-economic groups, all nations, all circumstances. As prayers, they are mostly written as emotion-infused poetry, not as sterilized non-fictional documents. In this sense, they are not meant primarily to be studied and dissected like a formaldehyde-filled frog; they are simply meant to be prayed (whether read, chanted, or sung).
Isn’t it so comforting to have 150 time-tested, emotional-spectrum-tested, circumstances-tested prayers to pray, particularly in those times when one hasn’t the foggiest idea what to pray? So what if I don’t understand the historical context and original Hebrew word of every single phrase; I can still stand with the billions of other people of faith and just pray them. The God of the psalms, the God who lets me call him my God; he hears my prayer, even the parts where I might not know what I’m saying. (Incidentally, at least half of the prayers I make up myself must also be filled with rubbish – things that I’m saying that I don’t know what I’m saying!)
Today, as a little soul practice, read this prayer aloud. Or, if you have an audio Bible, let someone else read it to you.
The first time, engage your mind. Listen for the four mentions related to all flesh, all the ends of the earth, the peoples. What a gift that all we humans have at least a few things in common; this psalm mentions them: a God who hears prayers, a God who is all about making himself at-one again with humans, a good and beautiful world to share, a year of diverse seasons to enjoy.
Then listen again. The second time, engage your emotions. In this incredibly cold and snow-covered season (at least where I live!), particularly enjoy the last half of this psalm, as it celebrates the other seasons in all their varied beauty. Also, notice the parts of the prayer that stick out to you; reflect on those parts: How and why did they stick out to you?
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. A Song.
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.