Archives For Psalms

screwtapes-desktopMy son, Stephen, recently told me of a friend who is doing his doctorate on “The Happiness of God!” I thought of this as I was reading Psalm 16. It ends with a beautiful expression of the locus of true pleasure and happiness.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:11, ESV)

With this Psalm obviously in mind, C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, has the senior devil writing to his understudy, bemoaning the “unfair advantage” that God (his ‘Enemy’) has over the devils as they do their dark, inverted work:

He (God) is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore’. Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the ‘Miserific’ Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood… He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working, Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.

There’s no real pleasure on ‘the dark side!’

Q – Are you believing any devilish lies about pleasure?

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In the last post, I mentioned that Athanasius of Alexandria, in addition to On the Incarnation, wrote a letter to Marcellinus On the Interpretation of the Psalms. Read the whole letter here.  Here’s a favorite quote from the letter you’ll want to read!

Among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. In the Psalter, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.

In the Psalms that we find written and described how afflictions should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say, both at the time and when his troubles cease: the whole process of his testing is set forth in them and we are shown exactly with what words to voice our hope in God. Or take the commandment, “In everything give thanks.” The Psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say. We are told, too, by other writers that all who would live godly in Christ must suffer persecution; and here again the Psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God, and it does the same for those who have been rescued from it…In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.

Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb has said that in dealing with our emotions, we must “be honest with ourselves and with God, subordinating the expression of our emotions to the will of God.” The Psalms help us greatly with the honesty part. Here is one of my all time favorite quotes about the importance of daily reading and praying the Psalms, from Kathleen Norris:

You come to the Bible’s great “book of praises” through all the moods and conditions of life, and while you may feel like the pits, you sing anyway. To your surprise, you find that the Psalms do not deny your true feelings but allow you to reflect on them, right in front of God and everyone.

They remind us that the mundane and the holy are linked. The Psalms make us uncomfortable because they don’t let us deny – either the depth of our pain or the possibility of its transformation into praise. We commit ourselves to being changed by the Psalms, allowing the words to work on us, and sometimes to work us over. The Psalms are unrelenting in their realism. They ask us to consider our true situation and to pray over it. They ask us to be honest about ourselves.

From Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris

Singing the praises of Holy Scripture begins in the Bible itself, as in the magisterial Psalms 19 and 119.  Many Christian poets have joined the chorus over the centuries.  George Herbert was a pastor and poet who lived in the 17th century.  Charles Spurgeon’s wife said that nothing soothed her pastor-husband after a long exhausting Sunday like Herbert’s poetry!  Here is one of two poems (you could also call them meditative prayers) that he wrote about his love of the Bible, titled The H. Scriptures I. Let it remind you of the sweetness of Scripture!  And of our need to prayerfull “ingest” it and be transformed!  [I’ve added some translations of old English words.]

Oh Book! infinite sweetnesse! let my heart
Suck ev’ry letter, and a honey gain,
Precious for any grief in any part;
To cleare the breast, to mollifie all pain.

Thou art all health, health thriving till it make
A full eternitie: thou art a masse
Of strange delights, where we may wish & take.
Ladies, look here; this is the thankfull glasse**,                   

That mends the lookers eyes: this is the well
That washes what it shows.  Who can indeare
Thy praise too much?  thou art heav’ns Lidger** here,     
Working against the states of death and hell.

Thou art joy’s handsell:** heav’n lies flat in thee,        
   Subject to ev’ry mounters bended knee.

** [glasse = mirror];   [Lidger = ambassador];  [handsell = deposit, down payment]

I’m defining Psalmody as “the systematic, continuous reading and praying of the Psalms.” This is the second installment of quotations about the importance of the Psalms.

Today, let’s listen to Martin Luther on his preference for praying the Psalms instead of other “little prayers!”

When read only occasionally, these prayers are too overwhelming in design and power and tend to turn us back to more palatable fare. But whoever has begun to pray the Psalter seriously and regularly will soon give a vacation to other little devotional prayers and say: ‘Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter. It tastes too cold and too hard.’

“It is therefore easy to understand why the Book of Psalms is the favorite book of all the saints. For every man on every occasion can find in it Psalms which fit his needs, which he feels to be as appropriate as if they had been set there just for his sake.”

NOTE: This summer I taught the morning sessions at Pilgrim Pines family camp in NH for a week in July. My theme was, Psalmody: Experiencing Christ in the Psalms.  These teachings are currently available for downloading here.
I’d be glad to send the 6 page pdf of the teaching handout to anyone who requests it. You can  email your request directly.

Isaac Watts’ Psalter

This summer I taught the morning sessions at Pilgrim Pines family camp in NH for a week in July. My theme was, Psalmody: Experiencing Christ in the Psalms.  These teachings are currently available for downloading here.

I’m going to do several posts sharing some of the quotes I collected and shared that week.  I’ll send the 6 page pdf of the teaching handout to anyone who requests it. You can  email your request directly.

First, here’s my simple definition of Psalmody. It’s the systematic, continuous reading and praying of the Psalms (whether saying or singing; whether alone or liturgically). The first quote is from a wonderful Orthodox teacher and acquaintance, Patrick Reardon…

We may start by observing that two things happen in the Book of Psalms: First, God is spoken about. This is already the case in the first two psalms, during the course of which He is never directly addressed. God is not invoked at all until Psalm 3. Indeed, many lines of the Psalter are statements about God and the things of God. Second, in many places in the Psalter, God is spoken to. This dominating feature of prayer is what makes the Book of Psalms unique in the Bible’s Wisdom literature.

…Pocket Bibles, containing only the New Testament and the Psalms, embody an ancient and deep insight of the Christian faith that sees the Psalter almost as part of the New Testament itself.

Christ is the referential center of the Book of Psalms…(see Luke 24:44-47)

– Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms.

 

The 40 day Journey known throughout much of Church history as Lent could be called the Christian disciple’s”Spring Training!” (Lent means “spring” or lengthening)  It’s getting ourselves more fit and strong and disciplined for the “regular season” of following Jesus. Sounds a little like a Game Plan! Continue Reading…