This past year, I’ve been learning to pray through the Psalms. At first it was difficult. The voice of the psalmist(s) seemed so foreign, violent, and not always reflecting what was churning in my heart. Yet, I kept reading them, because great women and men of faith have always pointed to the psalms as a source of prayer. Within this work of 150 songs, I received an invitation to pour out my heart – even my anger and curses – unto the Lord. The book of Psalms was an invitation to throw back at God all that life had thrown at me.
So it was with great excitement that I came across this work by Nan C. Merrill. Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness could be seen as just another translation, but Merrill has removed the language of patriarchy and competition, focusing instead on a movement towards healing and reconciliation. For personal devotion, this has been of great help. I haven’t set aside the “well-loved, still meaningful, and historically important Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture,” nor would I start using this translation in congregational prayer. But it’s like hearing a new cover to an old song (really, really old songs).
Reading Psalms for Praying has also reminded me of the kind of language I use when I speak of God. “Lord” and “King” are words associated with power and authority. How often do I address God as “Beloved” or “Love”? As “Friend” or “Healer”? Why is that?
And so I quote a prayer for us:
I waited patiently for the Beloved, who has heard my cry and came to me. Love raised me from the pits of despair, out of confusion and fear, and set my feet upon a rock. Making my steps secure. There is a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to the Beloved. May many see and rejoice, may they put their trust in Love. Blessed are those who make Love their home, who do not turn to the proud, to those who follow false idols! O Beloved, how wondrous are your gifts to us; your thoughts are beyond our imagination. What joy to live in Oneness with You! Were we to proclaim and tell of Your beauty and blessed grace, who could measure it? Sacrifice and offering are not your desire for us; for, you have opened our heart's ear. Burnt offerings are not required. My heart affirms my surrender; in the Book of Life it is written: “I abandon myself into your hands, for I love You and wish only to create with You, O my Beloved; For You are the Life of my life forever.” I tell the glad news of Love's way to all who will listen. Yes, I raise my voice, with praise and acclamation. I tell of Love's saving grace within my heart, I speak of Love's faithfulness and healing power. I aspire to reveal your steadfast love and truth through the witness of my life. Do not, O Beloved, withhold your mercy from me, Let your Love, your Light, and faithfulness ever guide and uphold me. For fears so often overwhelm me; My desires and anger cause me to be blind; so I look away when I see injustice, my heart becomes cold. In your mercy, O Beloved, deliver me! O Love, make haste to help me! Let my fears be put to rest, fears that separate me from You; Let al that keeps me from love, from peace and gratitude, be transformed within me. And may all who seek Love rejoice and be glad; May all who would live truth and justice, continually call upon Love! As for me, though often broken and weak, I know that Love dwells within. For now, where injustice or illusion make their home, I witness to your Peace and Love, O Teacher and Friend to All!
Psalm 40, from Psalms for Praying, an Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill