We believe that when we let the Psalms shape our spirituality, we open ourselves to learning new ways and new words for articulating our relationship with God.
When we open the book of Psalms, we are opening the heart of what it means to be human. This ancient book of poetry and songs highlights the wide range of emotional and spiritual experiences afforded to us in our humanity. We learn about mourning, grief, lament, love, joy, forgiveness and what it means to connect with God in the midst of our complex lives. It is a sprawling, creative epic about our life with God, community and creation.
Walter Brueggemann describes the Psalms as showing us the counter-world of abundance and truthfulness that comes from living with God. We think that is the ultimate purpose of art: to show us new worlds and imagine new realities of truth and abundance — and the Psalms are powerful guides to help us get there.
I. The Psalms Show Us How Humans Are
When we read the book of Psalms we are reading our common human experience reflected back in writing. This is a kind of liberation: we are not alone, and people have felt like us before as they made sense of their life with God.
The reverence of “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95)
The pain of “Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from my groaning.” (Psalm 6)
The despair of “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22)
The wonder of “Who is like the Lord our God?” (Psalm 113)
The Psalms show us how humans are. They frame our experiences within the larger, emotional history of the people of God. When we take our pain, our despair, our joy, our wonder, or whatever other strange things we feel deep in the human spirit, and look to the procession of the saints that have walked through the halls of time saying, “it was like that”, we’re reminded that we are not alone. We are not first, and we are not last. The Psalms are a people’s history of prayer, an emotional catalogue of experience that gives context across space and time for the things that move deep in our spirit.
II. The Psalms Show Us How to Pray the Life of the Church
When we pray the Psalms we are praying the life of the Church. Gordon T. Smith, President of Ambrose University, writes:
“The Psalms are not so much personal prayers as the prayer book of the people of Israel and Jesus and thus of the church. These are the prayers of the church, and in praying them we are praying with God’s people of all generations and cultures.”
When we don’t know what to pray, the Psalms are our anchor. By building the Psalms into our personal and corporate prayer lives, we are connecting ourselves to the same prayers that have been prayed over thousands of years by the people of God as they dreamed about a life lived fully in God’s presence.
III. The Psalms Shows Us Who God Is
As much as the Psalms show the honest process of humans putting words, and music and theology to their experience- they also guide us in understanding the character of God. The words of the Psalmist give us a language for how to name the deep things of God.
God is a refuge, and a fortress. (Psalm 91)
God raises up the poor from the dust. (Psalm 113)
God’s hands hold the depths of the earth. (Psalm 95)
God is the one who hears our weeping. (Psalm 6)
When we spend time in the Psalms, we are learning how to explore the depths of who God is. They are a library for our spiritual language. They show us how to speak of hope, loss, grief, victory, love, and failure — but more than that, the Psalms show us how to call out to the God who is present in all.
All images as seen in our book, Alabaster – Psalms, available for purchase on our online store.
Words: Geoff Gentry
Photos: Bryan Chung, Ophelia Ding, and Carmen Leung
1 Smith, Gordon T. 2018. Teach Us To Pray (pp 29). IVP. Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press.