psalmody

The Psalter and its Counterparts in our Culture

Writing in the New Yorker, James Wood offers us an interesting take on the contemporary place that the Book of Common Prayer has in our society.

The words persist, but the belief they vouchsafe has long gone. A loss, one supposes—and yet, paradoxically, the words are, in the absence of belief, as richly usable as they were three hundred and fifty years ago. All at once, it seems, they are full and empty. They comfort, disappoint, haunt, irritate, disappear, linger.

The whole piece is worth a read here but it got me thinking about the ways that the Psalter (the 150 Psalms) are similarly looked upon in our contemporary culture. Certain phrases and snippets are printed onto mugs or used in funerals or on condolence cards but our neighbours (Canadian society more broadly) have largely left behind the beliefs which undergird and enliven the Psalms.

As with the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, the Psalter in particular has had a profound impact on the literary and artistic culture that we have inherited. Nevertheless, it is increasingly a foreign and off-putting text which is, in the memorable phrase of James Wood, “full and empty”.

When we faith-full-y sing the Psalms in public worship and read the Psalms together, we are brought into a liturgy of sanctification that transforms us.

While our congregation has never made use of the Book of Common Prayer in a formal manner - and many would be quite unfamiliar with it - the theological content and the manner of expressing our heartfelt repentance for sin, our profound awareness of God’s glory and majesty, and our faithful reception of the mercies of God shown to us in Jesus Christ all find beautiful expression in the phrases and responses of the Book of Common Prayer. And the BCP derives much of its scriptural basis from the 150 Psalms. And where the Word is present, the Lord’s work is continued in us!

Thanks to Denisse Leon for the cover photo on Unsplash

Where's your head at when you sing the Psalms?

Bradley Johnston, in his book "150 Questions about the Psalter",  asks a great question for us to consider together as we worship the Lord and draw upon the wondrous resources found in the Psalms.

He asks a personal and pointed question: “What mindset should singers have as they sing a particular psalm?”

In reply, he writes:

As we sing a particular psalm, we should have a mindset focused clearly upon heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. We should be consciously lifting our souls to the Lord and praying for the strength and guidance of His Spirit, who enables us to turn away from sin, to rest in God’s abundant provision, and to walk in the ways of righteousness. (p 51)

I don’t know about you but I certainly can attest to the fact that it can be a challenge to adopt this proper mindset while singing the psalms or even in the time leading up to our singing. It’s easy to be distracted (even by the mechanics of singing!) and we can lose sight of the great wonder of bringing our songs before the very throne of God in praise of His Holy and Glorious Name!

May the Lord bless you as you sing!

What happens when you sing the Psalms?

Bradley Johnston, in his book "150 Questions about the Psalter",  insightfully expands on this question:

“Where does the Psalter move our attention as we sing?”

The Psalter moves our attention in a variety of directions as we sing.

It teaches us to focus upon the triune God and his mighty works, to ponder the condition of our own hearts and our affections, to consider the character of God’s people gathered in worship, to behold the nations in their rebellious unbelief, and above all, to cherish the good and sovereign reign of the messianic King. (p 51)

We know intuitively that we generally have a lot on our minds during each day. Nonetheless, in the singing of the psalms our attention is spiritually refocused on these wonderful realities that we are participants in!

Lift your voices and be renewed in your hearts and minds through the praise of His Holy Name!

How should the majesty and ancient authority of the Psalter shape our services?

Bradley Johnston, in his book "150 Questions about the Psalter", quotes from William Binnie to answer the question posed in our title. 

Question 140:

How should the majesty and ancient authority of the Psalter mold worship services?

paper-2027692_1280.png

Answer 140:

"In the Church of Jesus Christ, where the prayers are free, it is of utmost importance that services of worship should be molded in the forms of ancient authority; and surely the best possible mold is that which the Holy Spirit Himself gave by the Psalmists, which has left its divinely guided lines on the Church for these three thousand years."

I'm struck by that phrase, "divinely guided lines", and the compelling suggestion that this is the mold that we are to see impressed upon our services of divine worship. As I continue to grow in my understanding of and appreciation for the Psalms, I'm amazed at the ways in which the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit's inspiration becomes more and more evident in these sacred compositions. 

What do we currently have in our repertoire that bears the majesty and ancient authority of Holy Scripture?