Reflections for June


as published in Great Yarmouth Parish Life


Pam Spychal

I have a problem with the Psalms, well, at least some of them. I'm OK with the ones like Psalm 23, with its reassuring words about lacking nothing, being fed, being comforted, a full cup, loving-kindness, and mercy. Or Psalm 150, which praises God with music and dancing
However, I have been struggling with some of the other Psalms. The ones like Psalm 18, or the end of Psalm 149, which call for vengeance against enemies and the destruction of the ungodly. They just don't seem to fit with the Christian ideals of forgiveness and reconciliation
Luckily for me, Father Frank came to the rescue! He lent me a little book: Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggermann. This slim volume has helped me to look at the Psalms in a new way
Brueggermann considers why the Psalms were written. Basically they are poems or songs, written by many people over a long period of time. He divides them broadly into three groups: Psalms of Orientation; Psalms of Disorientation and Psalms of New Orientation
The first group (Orientation) are full of praise and thanksgiving, for an orderly, peaceful, and abundant life. Psalm 145 is one example. They are great Psalms for expressing gratitude when everything is going well
The Psalms of Disorientation are very different. They were written during times of great distress. Sometimes they are about individual suffering, as in Psalm 6, where the writer describes the pain in his bones, the tears shed by night, and the sense that he is close to death. Sometimes they are about national calamities - war, famine, or enslavement, as in Psalm 44. The writers are at such an extreme of torment that they no longer seem to care what they say. They accuse God. They blame everyone but themselves. They demand punishment and vengeance
The third category (New Orientation) expresses joy and relief, as individuals (Psalm 30) or communities (Psalm 124) begin to emerge from a disastrous situation.  Very helpful. "By praying any sacred text, we allow the deepest part of ourselves to encounter wisdom outside ourselves... When we pray psalms, then, we come face to face with who we are as human beings"
So, I I feel I have embarked on a great journey through the Psalms. In addition to Brueggermann I have looked at other commentaries, such as the Introduction to the Psalms in my Jerusalem Bible. Online, I found a blog by John Beckman 'Praying the Most Difficult Psalms'
As I look at the Psalms more closely in this way, I can see how they begin to reflect the whole of life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I might be in a place of orientation - it's Spring, the flowers are growing, the sky is blue, I live by the sea, I have plenty to eat etc, etc
Thank God!
At the same time I can also see disorientation in the world. Gangs, drugs, abuse; extremism, climate change; sickness, and bereavement
God help us!
Finally, I can have hope, as I look towards a new orientation. "Even were Ito walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for You are at my side"
God will not let me down

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