If you are similar to me, you probably know or have a familiarity with the Psalms. I have attempted a few times to read all 150 Psalms, but never got far. I started to question myself as to why.
Questioning always leads somewhere. I discovered there are a huge number of different translations of the Psalms. In my exploration, I also came across a small and potent book about the Psalms called Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann.
Brueggemann describes three movements in the Psalms…that of orientation, disorientation and reorientation. These are the movements of human life that we all experience many times over our lives.
From the book:
The Psalms of orientation tend to be consolidating, stable-enhancing, and inclined to urge conformity. These Psalms reflect a theodicy* that is accepted and celebrated without question. They reflect society in a state of homeostatic equilibrium. They mean to affirm the order, to generate new allegiance to the order, to give the order more power and authority, and to inoculate the youth into it. This may be an act of good faith, but such a voice also benefits from the present arrangement…. [The Psalms of orientation] celebrate the coherence of life and the justice of God because that is how they are experienced. This is life fully oriented, finding the current rules on earth and heaven adequate.
The Psalms of disorientation occur and make sense to us when the consensus about theodicy has collapsed and there is a crisis in the ordering of life….in a season of disarray one does not know how best to move. Within the Psalms of disorientation, there are three movements. One is a yearning for retaliation against the unjust enemy who has made life so disoriented. The second is an assault on Yahweh [God] as the legitimator of theodicy. The third as a yearning for return to orientation and to accept the fault.
Finally the Psalms of reorientation celebrate a new settlement of the issue with the theodicy. The crisis is past, and there is again a stable paradigm for social life. What is clear in these Psalms is that this is not a return to the old theodicy. There is no knuckling under to the old regime, the old God. There’s rather celebration of the coming of God, who now establishes a new rule.
….The Psalms are resources for spirituality; but any psalmic spirituality that denies or avoids the parallel issue of theodicy misses the point. That is, the spirituality of the Psalms is shaped, defined, and characterized in specific historical, experiential categories and shuns universals….The Psalms regularly insist upon equity, power, and freedom enough to live one’s life humanely. The Psalms may not be taken out of such context of community concerns…. The spirituality of the Psalms assumes that the world is called to question in this conversation with God. That permits and requires that our conversation with God be vigorous, candid, and daring.
God assumes different roles in these conversations. At times God is the guarantor of the old equilibrium. At other times God is a harbinger of the new justice to be established. At times also God is in the disorientation, being sovereign in ways that do not strike us as adequate. We might wish for a God removed from such a dynamic, for a spirituality not so inclined to conflict. But the Psalms reject such a way with God as false to our daily life, and false to the memories of this people, who know they do not belong to the Egyptian empire, who hope for a new equilibrium in a kingdom of justice and righteousness. On this the Psalter insists passionately, vigorously, and boldly.
The Psalms are a timeless conversation with God, or the One Being of your knowing. They are an example of the conversations we may find ourselves in with God. If you are so inclined, find a book of Psalms that speaks to you in your language and use it. Prayer is so much more than just asking for things to go our way. The Psalms can engage us in more intimate conversation with God. May you have the faith and trust to converse with God boldly, vigorously and passionately!