Inhabit the Psalms

I just started reading N.T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms. Wright is a leading New Testament scholar, and I suppose it is obligatory to say that no one can write as much as he does without saying things that are controversial (i.e. his views on justification). But who can disagree with this wonderful description of the psalms:

They are full of power and passion, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope. Anyone at all whose heart is open to new dimensions of human experience, anyone who loves good writing, anyone who wants a window into the bright lights and dark corners of the human soul— anyone open to the beautiful expression of a larger vision of reality should react to these poems like someone who hasn’t had a good meal for a week or two.

For Wright, using the psalms is not about pulling them into our world in an attempt to make them more relevant. Rather, the goal is for us to find our way into their world and begin to see things through their perspective:

The regular praying and singing of the Psalms is transformative. It changes the way we understand some of the deepest elements of who we are, or rather, who, where, when, and what we are: we are creatures of space, time, and matter, and though we take our normal understandings of these for granted, it is my suggestion that the Psalms will gently but firmly transform our understandings of all of them. They do this in order that we may be changed, transformed, so that we look at the world, one another, and ourselves in a radically different way, which we believe to be God’s way.

And for those who like their theology with a cheeky illustration here and there, it is hard not to enjoy Wright’s prose:

The Psalms offer us a way of joining in a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures. Not to try to inhabit them, while continuing to invent nonpsalmic “worship” based on our own feelings of the moment, risks being like a spoiled child who, taken to the summit of Table Mountain with the city and the ocean spread out before him, refuses to gaze at the view because he is playing with his Game Boy.

If, like me, you didn’t know anything about the view from Table Mountain in Cape Town, click here.