Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Mirrored Sunrise, Kiawah Island, SC

There are a total of 150 Psalms in the Bible that are said to mirror our hearts and speak our deepest thoughts. Their emotional range moves from great joy to deep distress. They teach our hearts who God is and what He has done. They model divine conversations with boldness and beauty. Jesus seems to be praying the 22nd Psalm on the cross in His final hour. Athanasius made the sage observation in the fourth century that the scriptures speak to us but the Psalms speak for us. Ironically, they are central to the human experience and Psalm 118:8 is located at the center of the Bible. It contains this verse; “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man”--a reminder to work towards being God-centered VS self-centered. And the shortest and longest chapters actually book end Psalm 118.

Many folks who have been indirectly exposed to the Psalms quite possibly consider them extreme wailing in the night (lament—Psalm 90) or gratuitous shouting in the daylight (praise—Psalm 100). But of course they are so much more once we spend a few hours reading and pondering these voices from a distant three thousand years ago. Thanksgiving is the focus of Psalm 65 and Psalm 73 is a meditative wisdom poem. C. S. Lewis rightfully characterizes them as poems intended to be sung or at least read aloud “with all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry if they are to be understood…Their chief formal characteristic is ‘parallelism’ or the practice of saying the same thing twice in different words.”

A few years ago I stumbled onto a book whose subtitle promised “Renewal, Hope and Acceptance from the World’s Most Beloved Ancient Verses”. The book titled The Healing Power of Psalms was created by Rabbis, Samuel Chiel and Henry Dreher. Working with numerous people over the years, they have come to understand that “turning to the Psalms as a form of prayer when we are sick, scared, or grieving will almost surely give comfort. They quote Psalm 121 as one example that can provide us a revitalized faith in an eternally protective God:

The Lord is your guardian,
the Lord is your protection
at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will guard you from all harm;
He will guard your life.
The Lord will guard your going and coming
now and forever.

They note that “prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. But how can we take prayer to heart without risking disillusionment and despair? It is best to remember that the body is a holy though impermanent vessel, the substance but not the essence of who we are”. They wisely observe that “curing and healing are not one and the same. Cure refers to the complete physical resolution of a disease. Healing may involve physical cure, but it is vastly more encompassing. Regardless of the medical outcome, this broader healing is a goal worth all of our energies—and our prayers.” And ultimate healing may not occur in this life, but in the next, as a traditional reading of this text says that “He will guard your soul”.

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