“In a world of prayers that indulge the religious ego and cultivate passionate longings, the Psalms stand out with a sort of angular austerity.”
The theology of the psalms presents us with two salient ways of viewing biblical poetry, covering the expanse of human emotion. The psalms are both a pilgrimage and a sanctuary, for such a time as this, or, that—any time.
God, living and active, seeks our response. And the psalms are just that: response. They involve the movement toward—and at times, even away—from the Divine; but there’s one thing they are definitely not, however; that is neutral. The psalms are ripe and good to go for anyone engaged in the living of life, for we are all spiritual.
There are two highly useful ways of considering the psalms in our theology and spirituality:
Pathways or pilgrimages are precisely what we’re all on. It’s life. Whether we consider this phenomenon a journey or a movement or a response matters little; it continues until it stops does life. And where the psalms come in is they breathe living and active meaning into the spectrum of experience. Again, this is something we cannot escape.
Perhaps we can’t do much about where God places us and the challenges that are beset us, but we can respond—trouble is many of us go through the ‘wide gate’ and respond in entirely the wrong ways. The psalms help direct us back toward the narrow gate that Jesus holds open for us.
I guess a big part of the problem is confusion regarding destination, for if we don’t know where we’re going, any method will get us there! Life cannot make sense unless we make a purpose of it. It’s that simple. Our pathway is inherent to our purpose. The biblical operand is rectifying hopelessness toward purposefulness—a destination is necessarily in mind.
The destination is our refuge. Along any journey there is need of occasional refuge. We all need refuge.
But when we catch on to what God has in store for us in life we begin to understand that refuge lies fair and square in the pathway! It is there for us any time we choose. Okay, this is easier said than done; to take note of the peace of God in a raucous moment and be still. Again, it begins with—and is facilitated by—a decision. This is the decision to trust and obey.
The psalms, however, show us that praise and confidence and tranquillity of soul are all possible. Indeed, many of the psalms propagate the image in our hearts and minds as we busily negotiate our day to day. They’re often then songs of victory!—truth told, held and respected—still despite the odds against us; victory.
Pathway to Refuge
The ultimate pathway toward the destined refuge occurs when we swap or transact ‘cries for vengeance’ with ‘calls to praise.’
It’s the whole purpose of the Psalter, taking us from the gratingly dire complaint and shaking-our-fist-at-God imprecation to the accepting embrace of life as we know it, choosing to smile as we sense the Presence of God, and in raw uncomplicated faith when we don’t.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
Reference: Philip Greenslade, Psalms – Songs for All Seasons (Surrey, England: Crusade for Worldwide Revival, 2003), p. 20, 35-36. At times Greenslade cites William P. Brown.