Did you bring your Psalter? It was once considered a necessary part of every Christian’s tool kit. Right now I am reading a New Testament, which like the Gideon’s versions, includes the book of Psalms at the end. People used to bring their “Psalter” to worship because the Psalms were prayers you prayed out loud and as a group. They were considered to be model prayers, which would span the entirety of human experience. They were corporate in the sense that their truth was universal, and reading them together in a group was a reminder that we’re all in this together.
Older versions of the Psalms tend to be illuminated, (that ancient art which makes type, and especially opening pages very fancy). There are famous versions of illuminated Scriptures on view in various places in the world. I for one, lined up in Dublin to see the Lindisfarne Gospels in London, and the Book of Kells, in Dublin Ireland. After standing in the lineup for hours, you realize that your wait was to see a single page. To preserve the manuscripts, they are stored in a climate controlled case, with special lighting. The pages are turned only one day at a time to best preserve the manuscripts.
Fortunately, we have unprecedented access to the Scriptures in our day. They are neither scarce nor banned in North America. The Bible in general, the best selling book throughout history. You can pick up a free copy in many places, and anyone with an internet connection can read the scriptures in many translations along with commentary.
The Psalms are an interior kind of reading. You read them out loud, but in your head. They are shouted in silence. The monks who copied such passages on lambskin by candle light, had a bit of time on their hands. They drank in the words in quiet meditation, and their souls were also illuminated. The decoration of typography is but a reflection of this.
I opened up this morning almost by accident to Psalm twenty-two, the one you might skip over getting to the more famous twenty-third psalm. This Psalm is attributed to David. Though he lived five hundred years before Jesus’ birth, David accurately prophesies Christ’s experience on the Cross. “They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” (verses 17 – 18). Some Biblical scholars refer to the Psalms as the pre-incarnate voice of Christ in the Old Testament. The following, from commentator Richard Price.
“The Psalms are one of the most important biblical texts in Patristic exegesis, commentary, preaching, liturgical practice and theological reflection. Their language and imagery is all-pervasive; they were not only interpreted by the fathers but a good deal of Patristic exegetical practice actually evolved from engagement with them; they directly informed Christological and Ecclesiological reflection; were central to early monasticism; inspired early Christian poetry and provided material for liturgical chant, prayers, hymns and penitential or doxological expression.”
“The Voice of Christ in the Psalms”, Richard Price.
There is a reason why Scriptures have been memorized, jealously guarded in times of peril, and why they are feared and banned by dictators. They map out human history alongside of salvation history. They put our lives in perspective, and they lift up the human heart. The Psalms connect with anyone going through a patch of trouble. Reading Psalms is filling your heart with good things you can revisit. They are substance apart from the void. Try praying the Psalms, it will change you. Some Psalms are more famous than others due to the number of people in history who owe a spiritual debt to them. Reading them in tough times, has given them direction, comfort and peace.
If you do a Google search for favourite Psalms, the various lists mostly overlap.
Some good Psalms to start with, Psalm 1, Psalm 19, Psalm 23, Psalm 27, Psalm 37, Psalm 46, Psalm 51, Psalm 62, Psalm 71, Psalm 91, Psalm 121…
It’s instructive to read the Psalms out loud, even to pray them. Consider it a well-trod pathway. So let me ask you… did you bring your Psalter? You’re going to need it.