This is the intro I wrote for an upcoming week’s devotions in the Psalms. How essential to recognize and learn to move with the three beat rhythm of life – orientation | disorientation, frustration, disruption | new orientation. And there the Psalms are to be climbing companions through them.
I share this to set up some musings on what I will call “waiting for the turn.” Wait for it…
They are more than just pretty songs.
The book of Psalms is something of an inspired prayer/song book that reflects the raw and real rhythms of human life “under the sun.” Wherever you are in life, there is a Psalm that speaks to and of that life setting.
We tend to be very selective in our reading and use of Psalms. We like the pretty and easy on the eyes images of Psalm 23 that greet us like a warm Thomas Kinkade painting. We tend to be less enthusiastic about some of the darker, downer Psalms that speak directly to issues of God abandonment, miserable circumstances from which there appears no way out or outright anger and rage that calls curses down on enemies and wishes to see their children’s brains bashed out against the rocks.
Not material for uplifting worship songs.
But this is why Psalms is so enduringly impactful in the worshipping and devotional lives of God followers across all boundaries of time, space, culture and religion. They give us words for where we live, what we see, how we feel. They reveal that an appropriate God response is not prettied up pious sounding expressions, but real, earthy, human ones.
One of the better guides to the Psalms is a theological commentary on the Psalms by the eminent Hebrew scholar Walter Brueggemann (The Message of the Psalms). Brueggemann observes: “Much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness. As children of the Enlightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience…The Jewish reality of exile, the Christian confession of crucifixion and cross, the honest recognition that there is an untamed darkness in our life that must be embraced – all of that is fundamental to the gift of new life.”
The Psalms are profoundly subsersive of the dominant culture, which wants to deny and cover over the darkness we are called to enter. Personally we shun negativity. Publicly we deny the failure of our attempts to exercise control.
To reflect upon and use the Psalms as climbing companions through life’s rhythms is not escaping from or numbing ourselves to those rhythms we find unpleasant, but to fully embrace and experience them from a God perspective.
Brueggemann summarizes the life rhythms we all experience into three groups – and these groupings ultimately serve as a very valuable way to group and understand the Psalms:
- Orientation. These are satisfied seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude for God’s presence and blessing. Life is good, the world is my oyster, God is in heaven on his throne. There is a predominant sense of “Ahhhhhhh.” Psalms of orientation celebrate “the joy, delight, goodness, coherence, and reliability of God, God’s creation, God’s governing law.”
- Disorientation. These are those anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering and death. Life sucks. The world is a hostile, cold place. God is nowhere. Psalms of disorientation match such seasons in ragged and raw expressions, culminating in powerful laments that provide the abrasiveness needed for such hard, dark stretches of our journey.
- New Orientation. This is the suprising turn that life can suddenly take as we find ourselves out of the pit, overwhelmed with new gifts of God, a new experience of grace, of joy piercing through despair. Psalms of new orientation speak boldly of this new gift of God, a fresh infusion and intrustion of divine working that makes all things new, that lifts us up and puts our feet in new high places offering vistas from which all looks different, vibrant, alive.
This week we dip into the Psalms for six days with an invitation to experience Psalms speaking to each of these seasons. A psalm a day. Two days of orientation, two of disorientaton, two of new orientation. Things going great this week? Things falling apart? Things finally coming back together? Wherever you are standing at this moment in your life, you will encounter a few Psalms this week that will speak to it.
There won’t be study questions accompany the Psalms each day. No sermon notes. No small group guide. You can make your small group time a time to share how you encountered God in the Psalms. No, all you have this week is the invitation to read the Psalm of the day aloud. To read it prayerfully, meditatively. To let the Psalm take hold of you. To allow it to lead you into prayer and worship, or to experience the freedom of crying your eyes out – either in pain or in unspeakable joy.
Experience some Psalms. Experience life. Experience God.
Orientation – 145, 104, 8, 19, and the mother of all orientation psalms: 119
Disorientation – 13, 86, 35, 74, 79, 137 and the most depressing psalm ever (I dare you to make a song of this for a Sunday morning worship set, O worship leader gurus): 88
New Orientation: 30, 40, 138, 34, 65, 96