In Awe of the Psalms


‘We should be in awe of the Psalms, they have lasted thousands of years, translate into multiple languages, and were a staple diet for our spiritual ancestors. Ninety Psalms are quoted in the New Testament, and short quotes are like headlines that say ‘go back and read the whole thing’. Augustine called the Psalms a school for people learning to pray. Ambrose called them a ‘gymnasium’. Athanasius said that whereas most of scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us, they give us a language, a vocabulary of engagement with God for every kind of circumstance and condition.

‘We would do well to increase their use in public worship, but the setting from which I would suggest the ‘jewel’ is most absent is not so much the public as the private.

‘I believe that the Psalms are gifted by God to enable every Christian to do much better what most Christians find most difficult – to pray and worship daily with gritty honesty, consistency using words inspired by the Holy Spirit. What if that daily habit became established in every worshipping community?

‘One of the strongest arguments for using the Psalms is both simple and profound – it was what Jesus did. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayer book, songbook and meditation manual, and if he needed them how much more do we? The Christian community was early convinced that he continues praying them through us as we pray them: “we recite this prayer of the Psalm in Him, and He recites it in us.” [Augustine]. We can take the Psalms on our lips as God’s gift of words to sing or pray back to him, knowing that they are fulfilled in Christ.’

 – Graham Kendrick.

Read the rest here. And no need for Anglicans to feel all smug and self-satisfied about the fact that we still use the psalms in our public worship. How many Anglican Christians use the psalms regularly in their private prayers?


One thought on “In Awe of the Psalms

  1. Andrew H.

    This is a fine essay. My experience with the Psalms over the years has been much like what Kendrick describes, and all the more so as I get older. As he says, they are “our everyday ‘library’ or ‘database’ to fuel our spontaneous prayer and worship – a rich resource for the Holy Spirit to prompt prayer and praise, as a defence against sin [Ps 119:11], and in crisis moments.”

    Step one is indeed what he says at the end: the worship leaders (priest, musician, et. al.) must discover the Psalter themselves, and teach others what they learn. In my context, this is mostly done in choral rehearsals as we prepare the Psalms for the Eucharist and Evensong. It remains mostly about diction, pitch, etc. (which ties into the Eugene Peterson quote about taking physical pleasure in making the sounds of the words. I do think that this sort of work on musical/textual detail in a choir is a vital and oft-underappreciated form of “Bible study.”). But it also includes openness to what these words mean. Especially with the children’s choir, this can take us down paths that are rarely encountered in normal Christian formation classes. Sometimes uncomfortable paths, and in directions where I most decidedly do not have the Answers. They need to know that. They need to know that the Faith is not all tidy and clean and pretty, so that when Life gets to be that way for them, they know where to find the Rock that cannot be moved.

    One result when things go well: the choir sings the Psalms differently in worship than they might without this sort of attention. What effect that in turn has on the congregation is unknowable.

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