Friday, 8 May 2009

psalm sung blue

A fascinating discussion about singing in church has been developing on +Nick Baines blog on Girly music. One of the points that he makes and is picked up in the comments is that we no longer make use of the Psalms in worship. I have to confess that I was almost put off the Psalms for life after my experience as a choir boy having to chant my way through the Psalter at Evensong. I do try and read the Psalms regularly as part of my devotions and this morning it was Psalm 21. Because the discussion about psalms was in the back of my mind I paid particular attention to the words, rather than simply rattling them off which is often the danger. I found myself feeling very uncomfortable saying:

Your hand will find out all your enemies; Your right hand will find out those you hate.

You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear.

The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath; And fire will consume them.

You will destroy their offspring from the earth, And their children from among the sons of men. Psalm 21:8-10

Do I really want to use such words in worship of God? Do I want my children expressing such sentiments let alone using them to praise God? This does raise for me the important point that if we are going to recover our use of the Psalms in worship then we had better make sure we have some good teaching to accompany their use. It is simply no good suddenly getting the psalms out one day in church and chuntering our way through them. We need to explain and explore why these ancient songs can resource our worship today.

A few days ago I flicked through a booklet entitled Discovering The Lord’s Song by Anne Harrison. Her argument is ‘that congregational song in particular and Christian worship more broadly are impoverished without the singing of Scripture (and especially psalms) in some form on a fairly regular basis’. I found this a helpful little book exploring why it matters and why we should make the effort, though I felt these sections could have been longer. However, its real worth is in the practicalities of using the songs of Scripture in worship; the when and how questions. The booklet is also punctuated by very useful lists of resources from Taize through to selected choral resources. It’s well worth the £3.50, provides a good introduction to the subject and is a helpful reminder to those of us who have come to take the Psalms for granted.

A couple of quotes cited by Anne provide some food for thought:

The psalms ‘are inexhaustible, and deserve to be read, said, sung, chanted, whispered, learned by heart, and even shouted from rooftops. They express all the emotions we are ever likely to feel, including some we hope we may not, and they lay them, raw and open, in the presence of God.’ Tom Wright Simply Christian.

‘Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do, they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of God. Over art, literature, reason, the way in to my spirit was a combination of words and music. As a result, the book of Psalms always felt open to me…’ Bono Canongate’s Book of Psalms.

By the way, did you know that Graham Kendrick is listed by grumpy not so old man Quentin Letts in his book 50 People Who B******d Up Britian? Mind you, he also lists Sir Alex Ferguson so he clearly doesn’t know what he is talking about.


Banksy said...

Decided to take your advice and just ordered 'Recovering The Lord's Song'... Am keen to explore further!


Philip Ritchie said...

Hope you find the book helpful and I'd be interested to hear what you think about it.

BTW I played drums for a while with an old mate of yours, Robin Childs, in his post ATF days. You don't happen to have any contact details by any chance?

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

The Catholic church do responsorial psalms well as part of their regular diet - and we tend to limit our readings to gospel and NT. Agree teaching may be needed but not just for children - but all texts are interpreted just by reading them.


Philip Ritchie said...

Hi Greg
Many thanks for the comment. I agree the teaching does need to be for everyone, which is what I was trying to say, though not very clearly. I am not so much concerned with telling people how to interpret the psalms as helping people to understand a bit more about them. Several lectionaries including ASB just left out the nasty bits (dashing babies heads against rocks is the classic e.g.); far better we engage with these parts of scripture.

Go well.

Anonymous said...

Hi again, Phil.

Yes - let's engage with the whole text and understand the context, but I'd rather not use all of them in worship, which is maybe why the ASB leaves the nasty bits out. Can we say that some parts of the Bible don't help worship but do help us to understand the mindset of the people of the time? Or would it be better to keep them in and acknowledge that they help us to deal/recognise the darkness within?



BanksyBoy said...

Sorry Phil, only just seen your request! Try this:



Philip Ritchie said...

Many thanks for the reply Pete.