Let’s talk about Psalms, shall we? Because really, that’s what motivated me to start this blog in the first place, those amazing poems smack in the middle of the Bible that, let’s face it, bore many of us to tears.
Yes, I really did just say that.
I say more about my presuppositions about the psalms in my book, and weirdly I have to excerpt it with permission because my contract says so. I’m cool with it y’all, just find it odd to get permission to quote myself, but here goes:
When I first started psalms journeying” …
“I expected to be bored. I expected to struggle really hard and then fail to connect with the arcane language and inaccessible imagery of the psalms. I expected the psalms to remain as flat and lifeless as they have been my entire life – great for the occasional worship song in church, wonderful for cherry picking a verse here and there for a feel good moment, but fairly useless as a tool for making sense of my life, let alone drawing me deeper into relationship with God.”
My book is the story of discovering just how wrong I was about the Psalms, of discovering how accessible they are as tools for spiritual formation, for renovating one’s experience of prayer, for self-awareness and for encountering God.
Psalms journeying is ultimately not about reading or studying the psalms, although both reading and studying play a part. Psalms journeying is about the psalms reading you. I know that sounds all esoteric and woooooo mumbo jumbo, and I suppose in some ways it is. The salient point is that in psalms journeying, you aren’t pinning down the text so you can manage it intellectually, but rather you are allowing God through the text to cause something from deep within your inner life to bubble up into the bright light of day. Some of it will be gloriously good. Some not so good. If you are like me, a lot of it is going to be downright ugly. All of it is legitimate, part of our human condition.
Look, it took me 200 pages to show what Psalms journeying is all about. I’m not going to be able to do it justice in a blog post.
I am, however, going to show you some examples, not from my book, because despite my book being done I continue to journey in the psalms. In my experience, once you start there’s no turning back, no wanting to turn back, because the yield –intimacy with God, self-understanding, unfettered worship — becomes your ether, the ruah of God.
My book covers my experiences in the first book of the Psalter, Psalm 1-41. I kept going with David’s psalms, so eventually came to Psalm 51, a glorious penitential psalm and probably David’s finest. Psalm 51 has been part of my vernacular for as long as I can remember, and to this day I will often find myself singing Keith Green’s Create In Me A Clean Heart. Can I get an amen here?
But there is a dark side to Psalm 51 too. The story behind David’s masterful confession was always taught as the story of Bathsheba – seductress and vixen — bringing down King David who was led “like an ox to the slaughter.” I learned it was a woman’s fault when men turned her into a sexual object and therefore the most important thing about us women was our sexual purity.
For 12 months I read this psalm every week, sometimes every day, trying to work through my wounds in this area. Then one day, my perspective oddly shifted and instead of looking at David in this psalm, I started looking through his eyes, and the person I kept seeing was Bathsheba. David, for all his other problems, was not calloused; he had a heart after God’s own, and he would not have been hard-hearted toward her (as I think his actions after the death of the baby attest). The more I pondered the story, the more I saw her reflection in Psalm 51. I pictured David after Nathan’s confrontation, as he looked around at the mess he had made, he saw this woman — not a seductress responsible for his appetites but a vulnerable woman who had been bought and sold, from father to husband and then simply stolen by the king. A woman who would bear the price of his sin with the loss of her husband, her reputation, her memory and worst of all, her child. Did he stand in the doorway and watch her weep as she held her dying baby, and did he then feel the weight of his sin more, differently? Did he realize the wreckage he had made of her life? And what could she do but kneel before God and pray for mercy.
Finally, after 12 long months in Psalm 51, I wrote my poem, Bathsheba.
They say I am beautiful
a possession, a plaything
a bartering chip for men to trade
like coins rattling in a pouch.
They blame me for breasts
a belly and a womb that bleeds
it was all my fault for being on the
roof in the first place.
For the sin of being coveted
and slaughtered like Nathan’s precious ewe
I will watch helplessly for seven days
while my nameless child dies.
Look at me!
your beautiful possession
your bartering chip
Look at me!
my “lord,” my “head”
as I bend unnaturally in submission
to your presumed superiority.
Let the bones you have crushed rejoice
as I teach you what brokenness looks like,
how to kneel before God, God only
and thus be made wholly new.
Have mercy on me, O God
according to Your unfailing love,
for I am everywoman
I am Bathsheba.