Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lucky 13: One Psalm at a Time

The Psalms played a small role in my religious upbringing. Sure, we memorized a handful of verses here and there in Sunday school for stickers on the chart, but never a full Psalm. And our Baptist church certainly didn’t have Psalters.

In 2000, I was gifted a fancy, personalized Bible by the church, words of Christ in red letters, gold-trimmed pages and all. It has been opened perhaps a dozen times and is mark free.

In 2009, I encountered my first Psalter in a Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Somewhere between 2012-2013, I was introduced to Psalm 13 in its entirety. I had been familiar with 13:5-6, but not the reality of 13:1-4. I had never prayed a Psalm until then. We, or better said, the professor, prayed 1-4 for me and petitioned for the existence of 5-6.

In 2013, I took Psalms and Wisdom Literature as well as 16th century British Literature, and finally flipped through various versions of the Psalms. I wrote papers on them. I researched the hell out of them. I studied the Sydney Psalter and penitential psalms.

It’s been sixteen years since I received that Bible. Four since I was introduced to Psalm 13. Days since I was reminded that someone, thousands of years ago, shared the frustration and desperation I have felt.

The Psalms are irrevocably important; belief in any part of or the full Trinity is irrelevant. It is a book of poetry. (No wonder some traditions eschew their importance—aside from Psalm 23. They, the Psalms, are too encouraging of intellectual engagement. Too raw. Too messy. Too full off complicated feelings and accusations and passion.) Love of God is not requisite to appreciate religious poetry. I tend towards hate and unforgiveness.

In a bipolar/depression group I occasion, we close by reading the Sunday school favorite: Psalm 23. But not because it is a religious group. Not because it praises God. But because our leader wants us to be able to carry something with us when inpatient care comes calling. I may not feel that “the Lord is my shepherd,” and especially not when mental health is out of control, but the imagery is comforting.

The best poets don’t demand belief, but rather invite observation, entrance, and companionship of sorts. I’m not at 13:5-6. The comfort and joy of which it speaks is borderline annoying. That is work well done. Vss. 1-4? Hell yes. I get it.

“How long, oh Lord?” For. Fucking. Ever.

Whoever wrote that Psalm did a fine job.

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