October 6, 2019
Clothed in the Psalms
One of the real joys of this sabbatical has been a new spiritual practice: committing to memory one psalm a week. I have not been studying these psalms. I haven’t even read much about them in biblical commentaries. There’s been little parsing of any Hebrew verbs. Rather, I have just worn these psalms as daily clothing. My knowledge of them is more on my lips and vocal cords than in my analytical head. And, in some ways, I suppose, they are closer to dwelling in my heart.
Two things have struck me. The first is just how much of the psalms are unfiltered. I find myself articulating phrases I would never initiate on my own, lest I offend the 21st century urban ear. Eugene Peterson referred to the psalms as being “intestinal.” I have always understood this academically; now my gut feels it.
Take the lectionary psalm for July 21st, Psalm 52 when David has had it with Doeg, the Edomite warning Saul about David’s where-abouts:
“You prefer evil over good, lying over honest speech.
Lying over honest speech, perfidious tongue.
That is why God will crush you, snatch you away for good,
Tear you out of your tent, uproot you from the land of the living.”
Whenever I recite this psalm, I can taste David’s hurt and venom. How interesting that these intestinal outbursts are allowed in the Bible and permitted in our lives. We trust that God will do the right thing with them.
I’ve also been struck by how often God speaks in the psalms. Walking inside these words fine tunes my ears for that Voice. Here is the September 29nd lectionary psalm, where God joins the conversation in the last three verses:
“Since he clings to me, I will rescue him,
I will raise him up high, since he acknowledges my name.
He calls to me, and I answer him:
in his distress, I am at his side.
I rescue him and bring him honor.
I shall satisfy him with long life,
and grant him to see my salvation.”
When I’m walking through Discovery Park saying this aloud (though not too loud) it’s hard not to hear that whisper, “Doug, when you call to me, I will answer you: in your distress, I am at your side.”
I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and these psalms are there, quick to my breath. But mostly, they help me sleep better.