Praying the Psalms

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How can the Psalms teach us to pray? 

The Psalms are censor-free.  Completely immediate.  No censors.  No passing them through a purification filter.  If there is sludge in the pipes, the sludge is coming through.  The directness and immediacy of the Psalms is startling to modern sensibilities. 

The Psalms are concrete. Polite, passionless, generalized prayers are not is what is recorded in the Psalter.  Like the incarnation of God becoming human, the Psalms teach us that you have to incarnate your experience in prayer.  You have to live inside your prayers.  Remember these Psalms were songs, and in the singing, there is an owning of the experience. Say your prayers out-loud if you want to pray like the Psalter.

The Psalms are conflictual.  Hatred and anger are articulated. Somehow, this is okay in the presence of God!  In the Psalms, life is a battle: there are enemies, there is exile, there is mourning.  And it’s all okay in the presence of God.  The People of God (Israel) conduct a brutal war of language in the Psalms against the enemies of life, and sometimes that enemy is identified as God himself.  The Psalmist is not praying sentimental prayers to give the pray-er “a romantic emotional boost” from God.

The Psalms are hopeful.  The Psalms usher you into a world wherein God makes all things new.  Rage, hurt, anger — as they are vocalized and sung — slowly begin to spill forth hope.  There is hope in the praying.  God must keep his promises!  God is a Covenantal God, after all! God’s past action (the goodness of creation & deliverance from Exodus) reminds us of a future hope.  Though there is weeping for a night, hope comes in the morning. 

The Psalms instruct us in the way of prayer.  The Psalms teach us that praying should be censor-free, concrete, conflictual, and hopeful. 

Jason Carter