30 April. Extra links added to Wikipedia articles.
What are your thoughts on the psalms of lament, particularly for their expression of faithful anger?
This evening, my partner Jonathan and I each had headphones on, attached to our own portable CD players, listening to Morrissey CDs. (He’s back on tour after several years.) We would break from time to time, and out of the liner notes, read the lyrics as poetry. As self-aware, post-ironic Gen-Xers, I suppose we can get away with this behavior. To the uninitied, these songs are gloomy, usually meandering, and sometimes self-pitying. (Of course, when I asked him for a copy of Meat Is Murder, Jonathan reminded me that that is The Smiths, and tonight we were only listening to Morrissey’s solo works. As you see from the title of this entry, I later got a copy myself.)
In any case, it is a lot of fun to read aloud the words of the artist one BBC announcer (pre-ironically?) dubbed “Mr. Cheerful.”
It put me to mind of Psalm 88 – the psalm-blogging evidently working on my mind in the same way that James must be thinking – which was by seminary exegesis project, and is often dubbed, “the saddest psalm in the psalter.” The last lines, in the Liturgical Psalter go:
I have been afflicted and wearied from my youth upward I am tossed high and low, I cease to be.
Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me and your terrors have put me to silence.
They surround me like a flood all the day long they close upon me from every side.
Friend and acquaintance you have put far from me and kept my companions from my sight.
I was wondering how the hitherto mentioned Mancunian, who has given the world a song like “Girlfriend in a Coma”, would sing this. Of course, he would, and we would listen.
That might be our first clue about the difficult psalms. They need a context, but public worship might not be the place. Indeed, I have a hard time thinking of where anything harder than Psalm 130 would be useful and Psalm 88 almost universally gets the boot from liturgical lectionaries. (Do note, Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I cried to you” gives us, in its Latin title, the title of Oscar Wilde’s plea from prison, De Profundis.)
Use might be made in pastoral counselling. I recall in my last conversation with a late aunt (who was then dying of cancer) her refuge in the psalms; though, in her (and my) case, it was Psalm 139, for solace and assurance. The difficult psalms may faithfully be approached in a psalter spirituality, by which I mean at root using the psalms to express language that the individual may not be personally ready for, or ready to generate. That will include anger.
But the purpose of the church, as we must accept, is not theraputic. Unreflective, uncareful, and (above all) unattended recourse to anger in the psalms is an open door to violence. God knows the Christian Church has been stirred to violence before, and it can happen again, particulary if we don’t pay attention to have we use our heritage. A good book on the subject is Erich Zenger’s A God of Vengence?: Understanding the Psalms of Divine Wrath. (Westminster/John Knox, 1996)
No, reading Morrissey aloud isn’t just for the fun of it. It serve a purpose: an emotional and spiritual valve if you will. (After all, it can’t be the Carpenters and Burt Bacharach every night.) Same goes for the psalms.