Ep.171. Psalms. Half-time Break.

Hello. I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

The recent episode on Psalm 75 marks the halfway point in our journey through the psalms. Today, we take a half-time break to reflect on what we’ve encountered.

One thing I notice is that these ancient psalms are as current as the Globe and Mail. Three thousand years ago, psalmists were already covering today’s news: chaos, violence, and disasters;  corrupt politicians, war, and pandemics. The genius of the psalms is translating human experience into poetry rather than focusing on specific events. The Globe and Mail supplies the details of today’s disasters, but the psalms describe the experiences and emotions shared by humans in all periods of history. Names and faces change, but the news stays the same.

Another striking feature of the first 75 psalms is the backdrop of darkness and evil. I expected more praise, more optimism. But so far, the psalms have given greater expression to darkness than light, to difficulty than ease, to complaint rather than praise. In most of the psalms, however, the poet pushes through the darkness to light and hope. Perhaps then, as now, joy and hope are hard-won attitudes, rewards for struggling against doubt and despair. 

Over the last three years I have read The Harper-Collins Book of Prayers (compiled by Robert Van de Weyer. Castle Books: Edison, New Jersey, 1997), 400 pages of prayers featuring 200 authors, spanning 3000 years of history, 

In this wide field of prayers, one section stood out to me like a mountain resign above a plain. It was a small selection of prayers from the Psalms, including Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I was taken aback by the rawness, the power, the eloquence of that psalm, compared with hundreds of lesser prayers in the book. I thought, “That’s why the psalms are in the Bible. They speak simply and powerfully, as few humans have ever been able to do.” 

Another way the psalms have impacted me is by putting me in touch with my emotions. I tend to live life stoically, soldiering on through thick and thin, consulting my will, not my emotions. When I am tense and annoyed and out of sorts, my family knows it long before I do. The psalms teach me that emotion is an important part of my relationship with God and others, that love is not just a discipline or a behavior, but an emotion that wishes people well, that wants to be in relationship, that desires the best for others. 

But the scary part of emotions is that I can’t choose what ones I want to feel. If I lift the trap door and peer into the depths where I store my feelings–my love and anger and gladness and sadness–the whole crowd of them come jostling toward the light and threaten to overwhelm me. The psalms encourage me to feel each emotion and express it to God. Perhaps when the psalms have done their best with me, I will no longer be a soldier trudging along in endless twilight. Perhaps I’ll be a dancer and singer greeting the mountains and the dawn with joy, singing dirges in the valleys at night, awake to the full range of human emotion. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, in all our need, in our pain and joy, you have been there for us in the psalms. You have been our guide, leading us to green pastures and walking with us through the valley of shadows. You have been our king, bringing justice and righteousness. You have been our mother, sheltering us under your wings. 

Thank you for the psalms, for the words they teach us to pray, for the images that furnish our imagination. Thank you for the journey they take us on, moving from fear into courage, from isolation into community, from darkness into the light of your presence. 

Amen.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Ep.019: Psalm 1: Tree People and Chaff People

Hi, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me.”

Today we start a new prayer project: praying through the Psalms. We start with Psalm 1, which asks the question, “Do you want to be a chaff person or a tree person?”

Psalm 1 describes wicked people as chaff blown around by the wind.  So what is chaff?

When the wheat is growing, the kernels are protected by an outer layer of fibre. But after harvest, you garbage the dry and useless husks, and save the edible kernels to be ground into flour.

1. Imagine a grain farmer in ancient times, using a shovel to toss his pile of grain into the air. The wind blows away the dry husks and dirt, and the good seeds fall back into the pile.

2. A modern combine takes the crop into the front and spews dirt and straw and husks out the back.

3. In World War 2, planes dropped foil-backed strips of paper into the air to confuse the enemy radar. They called it chaff. It was a cloud of paper fluttering down through the air, ending up as useless litter on the ground.

Maybe your life is like chaff: short-term, temporary, little to show for your efforts, changing direction with the weather, a cloud of dust and husks in the blowing wind. Always looking for the next hit of entertainment or drugs or religion that will mask your pain and give you relief from gnawing emptiness and angst.    

Psalm 1 says there is another way to do life. Instead of being a chaff person, you could be a tree person. A tree, planted by streams of water, always green and leafy, giving a harvest of fruit. A tree person has deep roots, a tree person doesn’t dry up and blow away. A tree person becomes like Treebeard the Ent in “Lord of the Rings” — not hasty, but thoughtful, wise, and good.

Let’s pray.  

Our Father, so much of our life is chaff. Our books, our movies, our video games, days on Facebook and nights surfing the net. Our lives are blowing away a cloud of dust and chaff.  

Help us become tree people. To grow our roots deep into your word. To listen to our heart when it tells us to pray. To obey the spirit when it encourages us to love a neighbour. Psalm 1 says, “The Tree Person delights in the law of the Lord.”  Help us to discover the delight that comes from letting go our ways of chaff, and growing roots and leaves and fruit, fed by the Spirit in streams of water and growing up into the warming sunshine of your presence.

Amen.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.