Wednesday, December 7, 2016

undone by the Psalms

Tomorrow is (barring a snow day) the last session for my Psalms class at George Fox University.

The Psalms have undone us.

They have stripped us of pretense, caught us unawares, awoken our senses, and shocked us out of our numbness. They have invited us to do the unthinkable -- to say what we really think, and to say it straight to God.

Our mentors this semester have been Walter Brueggemann and John and Kathleen Goldingay, as well as each other. The Goldingays have helped us to think about how to read the Psalms -- even the ugly ones -- as Christians, and to read them boldly.

Brueggemann has opened up new ways of thinking about the Psalms in relation to the world we inhabit. He has repeatedly issued an invitation to name reality. From his perspective, the psalms are far from tame and tepid. They are unruly and dangerous.

Even though I've come to expect this language from Brueggemann, his writings on the praise psalms caught me off guard. Praise psalms are the ones I used to think were typical, predictably cheerful. But Brueggemann woke me from my readerly slumber, highlighting five things about praise in his book, From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms:
"First, praise is an act of imagination, not description. It sees the world through the lens of faith and dares" to suppose that there is more than meets the eye (46, bold added).
"Second, hymns of praise are acts of devotion with political and polemic overtones. . . . The very act of praise itself envisions a new world, a different world, a world alternative to the one in front of us. Indeed, hymns of praise are acts of defiance of the world that is in front of us" (47, bold added). 
 "Third, the Psalms voice and are embedded in a larger narrative in which [Yahweh] is the key character and lively agent." This narrative is necessary to the act of praise. It is not vague and spiritual but particular and embodied. "Each generation [is invited] to be a continuing participant in that narrative" (47, bold added).
"Fourth, doxology is the exuberant abandonment of self over to God. . . . Our self-yielding praise is a measure of our capacity to give our lives over to God" (47-48, bold added).
"Fifth and last, the hymns of praise with their exuberant self-abandonment without reservation into the God of large and particular narratives are quite in contrast with what we currently call 'praise songs' . . . [which often constitute] not a ceding of self, but a pre-occupation with self and a private religious expression that lacks depth or breadth" (48, bold added). 
If we really catch hold of this we'll turn everything upside down.
To praise God as king of all the earth relativizes the power of any human ruler.
To praise God as redeemer recognizes both pain and rescue, bondage and freedom.
To praise God as creator acknowledges a personal power behind the beauty around us.
To praise God necessarily involves all of who I am, without pretense, without reservation.

Even here, even in the psalms I thought were business-as-usual, I am undone.

Do I dare to praise?

Do you?

Do we?
"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD." (Psalm 150:6)

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