Praying the Psalms: Our May FaithTalk

At our May 3 First Sunday FaithTalk, Tom Dunlap shared his years-long daily practice of reading the Psalms. Each encounter is different, he says, even with his favorites. Scripture is “like a mirror.” As he grows and changes, the Psalm offers different reflections.

In Tom’s words: “This is what I do: I settle into a quiet spot, close the door and get calm—slow deep breaths help. I read the psalm to catch its basic meaning and general shape. I read it a second time out loud and try to experience or connect with what the psalmist is feeling and seeking. In other words, I explore it and try to find some part of it, maybe just a line, that I can hold onto and think about. There is always something … But more dynamically, most psalms jolt me, I guess, out of my complacency and everyday self.

“What usually surprises me about a psalm is a mystery, not easy to define. The best I can say is that I’m usually startled by the spiritual awareness that the psalm shares with me. Many times it is getting at the mystery of God.

“For context, let me digress to say that I don’t find this glimpse of mystery or wisdom in the rest of the Bible. The mystery and wisdom are there, but most of the books are long faith-narratives, histories of generations, prophetic visions and sermons for the community of believers. Psalms are different and much shorter. They are hymns or songs that were used in worship for many generations of believers up to today in modern forms.

“The Psalms are considered a part of the Books of Wisdom, but they also resonate with emotions. They share the voices of people struggling with their pain, anger, heartbreak and their faith. All convey a sense of immediacy and on some days, they jolt me with exactly what I needed to hear. On other days a psalm of praise and celebration of God opens my eyes to all that I need to be deeply grateful for.

“That is all that I do: read the daily psalm for meaning and shape. Then read it out loud and try to experience or connect with psalmist and to find the spiritual awareness that resides in the psalm. I also feel that there is no right way to experience this poetry—and plenty of room for your imagination.”

The May 3 First Sunday FaithTalk then discussed two Psalms Tom had picked for us to delve into, Psalm 46 and Psalm 121. When you read these Psalms, are there words that stick with you, that jolt you?

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Psalm 46 – New International Version

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shieldswith fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Psalm 121 – New International Version (NIV)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

If you want to dig deeper into reading the Psalms, here are two book recommendations to get you started:

  • Spirituality of the Psalms, by Walter Brueggmann
  • Journey Through the Psalms, by Denise Dombkowski Hopkins

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