Saturday, July 25, 2009

psalms in the summer: part six

I am moving through the psalter this summer; this morning I sent a tweet on Psalm 97 here. This has been a good daily discipline for me, and one that has become a way of life, not unlike drinking a morning cup of coffee or working on a Sudoku at the end of the day. I have also enjoyed getting back into Psalms that I have preached before (see posts on this blog related to Psalm 23 and Psalm 121), and we have welcomed two excellent guest teachers, Peter Wallace of Day One and Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary.

Tomorrow I am preaching from Psalm 137, which is a profound and complex passage of scripture. It conveys the sense of "disorientation" of which Walter Brueggemann speaks, and I have also been helped by Eugene Peterson's description of it as a vehicle for "praying our hate". I have turned again and again in the summer to a number of background works, related to the Psalms, chiefly Brueggemann's The Message of The Psalms, Peterson's Answering God, and two works by Ellen Davis, Getting Involved With God and Wondrous Depth. I have also spent time in two more recent works, Peter Wallace's Connected and Clint McCann's Great Psalms of The Bible.

One work, which I recently came upon, holds great promise. It is Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary, edited by Van Harn and Strawn (Eerdmans). It completes a four part series, and I can only say that it is both substantial and accessible.

The citation on Psalm 137 begins with the observation that this Psalm is buried deep within the lectionary as an alternate responsive reading; then moves to historical context, then literary structure (this is poetry), then cultural echoes (including Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Bob Dylan and Bruce Cockburn----I had never thought of this psalm in relation to his "If I Had A Rocket Launcher"). The exegesis moves to a thoughtful reflection on what to do with verse nine; we can omit it, gloss over it, or
in some way come to grips with it. Brent Strawn quotes C. S. Lewis, from Reflections on The Psalms, as the latter seeks to revise or contextualize 137. 9:

"I know things in the inner world are like babies: the infantile beginnings of small indulgences, small resentments, which may one day become....settled hatred, but which woo us and wheedle us with special pleadings and seem so tiny, so helpless than in resisting them we feel we are being cruel to animals. They begin whimpering to us, "I don't ask much, but"...against all such pretty infants (the dears have such winning ways) the advice of Psalm 137 is the best. Knock the little bastards' braints out. And "blessed is he who can", for it is easier said than done."

The treatment of Psalm 137 concludes with a return to Ellen Davis, who asks us to "rotate the Psalm 180 degrees" so that someone else is praying the psalm toward and about us. This leads to contemplation of our own actions, and, is, alongside other readings of this text, "good for the soul". This could be said about the Psalms in general; they help us to confront our own disorientation on the way to new life.


Post a Comment

<< Home