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Practical pointers for praying the psalms

Sunday kicked off a three-weeks sermon series on the psalms. I've been looking forward preaching this series for months because I love the poetry and imagery and emotional rawness of the psalms. Last week we looked at how the psalms train us to see the world as it really is, using beautiful Psalm 104 as our guide. This coming Sunday, we'll focus on a lament psalm and the ways the psalms unite us with the suffering of Christ and of the entire world. And in our third week we’ll look at how the psalms tell God’s story and place us within it.

As I said over and over on Sunday, my hope for these three weeks is that we become people who pray the psalms. And I've been so encouraged by those of you who have already reached out to tell me you are doing just that!

But sometimes praying the psalms feels difficult. Most of us are used to praying by impulse, letting our emotions and pressing concerns guide our prayers (and that's okay!). But when we pray the psalms, we sometimes end up in uncomfortable emotions that we may or may not be feeling at the moment. We may encounter an angry psalm on a happy day, or a history psalm when we're just trying to get through the next hour. Sometimes the psalmists praise aspects of God that we don’t understand or find boring or irrelevant. And the psalms force us into silence with that persistent term "selah." All of this requires us to surrender ourselves to the text and to the God who breathed it, trusting its guidance as we pray. This is hard. It takes effort. It isn't what we're used to.

But in other ways, and precisely because they are sometimes so very "outside" our experience, the psalms offer us relief in prayer. They lift the burden of spontaneously manufacturing sincerity and insight and eloquent words every time we pray. We don't have to understand what we are feeling or what the world needs, and we certainly don't have to articulate it well. The psalms—breathed from the mouth of God, delivered by the Spirit through their writers, prayed by the church for centuries—have done the heavy lifting for us. We can simply rest in this psalm tradition and trust it to form us.

And it will form us. Nothing has shaped my own prayer life by having the words of the psalms rattling around in my brain from regular use. I have prayed Psalm 91 in the middle of many dark nights with my children. I have prayed Psalm 46 when the world seems to be falling apart. I have prayed Psalm 23 from a hospice bedside. The traditional psalms of the morning and midday daily office (Psalms 95 and 126, respectively) are so lodged in my subconscious that they often begin to recite themselves in my brain at those times of day, whether or not I have paused to pray.

Finally, I wanted to offer a few resources that I've found helpful in thinking about the psalms:

Answering God by Eugene Peterson. This is the book I will reference most during our series. It is short and excellent.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. A beautiful book about the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134).

The Letter of St. Athanasius to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of Psalms. Little known fact about me: I'm a church history nerd. This letter is amazing, and you won't believe it was written 1600+ years ago.

Bono & Eugene Peterson on the Psalms. (Can you tell I like Eugene Peterson?) A very sweet video; the highlight for me is watching Eugene and his wife pray the psalms together at their kitchen table.

Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. Can't go wrong with Lewis. This was a simple little audiobook that I finished on a long car ride.

2019 Book of Common Prayer. Our province's new prayerbook, ten years in the making, which includes a beautifully revised Coverdale Psalter. The Coverdale is the original psalm book ("psalter") printed in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, revised in 1963 by C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, and now revised again for use in our province. You can download the psalms in PDF form from the website.

The Trinity Mission Audio Daily Prayer App. I use this app nearly everyday. It's a podcast of the Anglican daily office that prays morning, midday, and evening prayer, including the appointed psalms, everyday.

Chanting the Psalter in Plainsong. A 2-part blog series on plainsong chanting from the always-helpful Anglican Pastor website. Plainsong is, essentially, Gregorian chant in English. It is the form of chanting we have been attempting on Sundays for the past two weeks. Chanting resources for rookies (like me) are surprisingly difficult to find!

Sunday was a day of firsts for me. My first time leading without Liz and Morgan present. My first time preaching a sermon series. My first time singing into a microphone. My first time spilling an entire cup of coffee on myself as I headed out the door to church. But I arrived at church and found Beth, Hannah, and Weber already rehearsing; Connor already setting up sound; and volunteers beginning to arrive early to pitch in and lend an extra hand. I was filled with gratitude that Incarnation is the place in which I get to experience these firsts (although I could do without the spilled coffee). THANK YOU for the ways many of you welcomed visitors and picked up extra slack on Sunday to set up and take down while many from our church were away. You are such a faithful group of energetic servant-leaders, and it's a gift to be one of your pastors. Let's keep praying the psalms together!


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