When I was a young bride, back when having a Better Homes and Gardens house was a high priority, we had a lovely book about the psalms that was well-placed on our highly-polished living room coffee table. Every proper home, young brides were told, had a Bible and a Complete Works of Shakespeare, neither of which was to be taken too seriously. I thought throwing in the book on the psalms was an added touch of class – a little demonstrated reverence for things holy. It was not necessarily for reading.
I actually did open the psalms book on occasion, mostly when I was feeling blue. An index in the back of book offered prescriptions for every life situation:
If you are lonely, read psalm such and such,
If you are perplexed, read psalm . . .
If afraid, read psalm . . .
It was all quite lovely. And that is how most of us encounter the psalms.
But for our Hebrew forefathers, the psalms were far more than lovely thoughts and comforting words. They were the very heart of the people of Israel; the rugged story of the life of the community as it moved from oppression in Egypt to deliverance and the promise of a coming kingdom.
In the psalms the Hebrews simultaneously berated God for the mess He had put them in (“How many adversaries I have!” 3:1) and declared their everlasting loyalty to their God (“All who take refuge in you will be glad” 5:13). They railed at God for the many injustices they suffered (“All who see me ridicule me” 22:7) and begged Him to wipe out their enemies with horrific images (“Happy are they who take [their] little ones and dash them against the rock” 137:9).
But the psalms are also the voice of the people celebrating in joyfulness as they recall again and again how their God has delivered them (“Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all you peoples. For His loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever” Ps 117).
Israel’s story is our story. It is a story of disappointments and dashed hopes mixed with glimpses of Heaven. It is the story of continually moving toward God in hope and expectation.
This is also the story of Lent, a season that begins in deep penitence and moves through our heightened awareness of our separation from God as well as our need to return to Him. It is a story that culminates in the jubilation of Easter and man’s reconciliation with The Holy One.
Athanasius, a Christian leader of the 4th Century, noted that while most of Scripture speaks to us, the psalms speak for us. During this Lenten season, we will return to the roots of the psalms and investigate how they continue to speak for us today. Each week we will offer a set of psalms for your examination and reflection and give some suggestions on how to make them your own. We will also offer reflections from some of our writers as they engage the psalms.
It all begins on Ash Wednesday, March 9, here on ReflectionsOnline. Sign up in the email subscriptions at the right to receive it in your e-mail inbox. And please invite others to join us. The logon address is www.reflections-dwtx.org.