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 (as it were) model prayers, or at least 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.
We have a bit of a different take on meditation these days. We think that sitting on a mountain somewhere is necessary, and that one must empty one’s mind and think of nothing, as if such a thing were possible. I would defer to the Psalms to show that meditation can be filling your heart with good things you can revisit when you feel the need to revitalize your day. They are substance apart from the void.
I opened up this morning almost by accident to Psalm twenty-two. This Psalm you might skip over getting to the more famous twenty-third psalm. Though most Psalms are actually attributed to David, this Psalm give some credence to what some theologians claim, that the Psalms are also the pre-Christian voice of Christ in the Scriptures.
In reading this psalm you cannot avoid the many exact references, you might call prophecy, that channel Christ’s experience on the Cross. The presence of such prophecy, combined with the way the Psalms connect with anyone going through a patch of trouble, has made them liturgically important and a favourite throughout history. Don’t forget you’re Psalter. You will need it… someday.
“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.
Perhaps the time is arriving quickly where we will understand the great importance of Scripture. Personally, and as a hinge to civilization and human history. There is a reason why Scriptures have been memorized, jealously guarded in times of peril, and hidden away from the incursions of dictators. They paint a broader picture than we can see at the moment, they put history into perspective, and they lift up the human heart.
Scripture is a retread of the Word made Flesh, where he can and would like to overlap the human experience, if given place. 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 has sustained them through tough times, given them direction, comfort and peace. They are often pinpointed in a Gideon’s Bible, in the part that instructs, “where to go to in times of…” Psalm can be a balm for human worry and doubt.
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. The twenty-second Psalm reads initially like a Psalm of despair, but as you make your way through, it comes to a place of exultation and faith. “For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, neither hath he hid his face from him, but when he cried unto him, he heard... The meek shall eat and be satisfied, they shall praise the Lord that seek him, your heart shall live forever.”
So let me ask you… did you bring your Psalter? You’re going to need it.