Religion Magazine

In Praise of Dabbling

By Richardl @richardlittleda

An experiment in biblical engagement

Last week I began preaching through a series entitled “How is this the word of God” We looked at the history of the canon, the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and talked about the thorny issues of inerrancy and infallibility. If you would like to know more, there are details here. This Sunday we took a look at one Biblical genre, and it led to one of the most remarkable experiences of engagement with Scripture which I have ever seen.

This week we tackled the first of several Biblical genres by looking at poetry. We looked at some differences between the Psalms and other poetry.

Upward not downward – most of the Psalms are addressed to God, rather than to the reader

Multivalent rather than polyvalent – the language used in the Psalms may work on more than one level, but there is not the artifice and intentional ambiguity which you might find in other poetry.

Context and rubric  – unlike other poems, the psalms often include some background material in the italics or ‘rubric’ written just under the Psalm number in English versions. This may be a back story, as in Psalm 32, or an instruction that the psalm should be used in communal worship, as in Psalm 46.

We noted how the Psalms tend to fall into the categories of orientation (life is good, such as Psalm 1 ), disorientation (life has gone wrong, such as Psalm 13) or reorientation (life was wrong but now it is getting on track, such as Psalm 30). Often the Psalm will follow a pattern of:

Report (this is how I feel)
Recall (this is how it used to be)
Restate (this is what I know to be true about God)
Resolve (this is what I will do)

At this point, people were invited to choose a category of Psalm and then write their own in the first person singular, using the four Rs above and taking no more than 10 lines to do it. You can download the sheet they used here.  Inviting people to do this was a calculated risk. Some might think it was an invitation to add to scripture, and thereby undermine it. Others might find it simply too personal. However, I explained that the exercise was not an attempt to add to scripture, and that we could think of a psalm simply as an expression of God’s eternal presence in our temporal situation. Not only that, but writing a Psalm might be the best way to understand them as originally written…

The church fell silent as people scattered to the four corners, sat on the floor or sat at coffee tables to write. A little later, they were invited to share their psalms, and about one third of those present did so. The results were personal, poignant and deeply moving. They provided an experience of true biblical engagement of a kind I have never seen.

Care to try it?




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