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Journey with the Psalms

In the Psalms we find a collection of prayers, which offer us a window through which to view human nature and experience, and a mirror in which we can see ourselves vividly reflected. These qualities prompted John Calvin to conclude:

I have been accustomed to call this, I think not inappropriately, ‘An Anatomy of All Parts of the Soul’; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life of all, the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubt, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short all the distracting emotions with which human minds are wont to be agitated.

What a wonderful resource for prayer and reflection! Some pray the psalms as a regular aspect of their devotion but may never have thought about the significance or potential benefits of what they are praying. Others may never have considered the Psalms to be a book of prayer. A new journey beckons them.

The Psalter has three major genres: lament, thanksgiving and praise psalms, all of which are ways of prayer, of connecting our experience with God. I prefer to think of the lament psalms as psalms of distress. This genre constitutes just over a third of the Psalter. We all experience distress. Much distress could be categorized as low level but we also have those seasons where we experience deeper levels of distress. The lament psalms reflect these ‘valleys’, common to all human beings and offer us some clues as to how we might effectively manage ourselves through these times.

Thanksgiving psalms represent an emergence from lament, the dawning of a new day where our world may not be the same but where we can continue on the journey of life. These psalms form a stepping stone between lament and praise. Praise psalms can be thought of as the other side of the coin to lament psalms. They reflect the mountaintop of contentment and a sense of intimacy with God that we all strive for in our spiritual search.

I have observed both in the text of the Psalter itself and in my own pastoral work and teaching with many people over the past 25 years that these three types of psalms, when prayed together, form a pattern which reflects life. But the pattern is not linear. In fact it forms a dynamic cycle, or perhaps spiral upwards, which symbolizes our search for relationship with ourselves, others and ultimately with God. Praying the Psalms helps us to journey inward, outward and upward.

– David Cohen

Event Details

  • 9.30am – 3.15pm on Saturday, 22 August 2015
    With David Cohen at Dayspring,
    Psalms of Praise – Workshop 3 of 3

Further Information

Original image by Cat from Sevilla, Spain used under Creative Commons license

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