Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 28, 2002
Psalms for all seasons
Bible a treasure trove of prayers that touch all periods of one's life
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Christians should use the psalms as prayers for the in-between of life, the downs of life and the ups of life, says an American theologian.
Speaking at Scripturefest Oct. 18-19, John Craghan, an author and professor of religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisc., described the Bible as a treasure trove of prayers that addresses the rhythms of human life.
He said it contains prayers for normal times when we experience no great upheavals. Then there are prayers for times of numbing loss when we face despair. There are also prayers for times of newness and exhilaration when we rediscover God's capacity to surprise us.
"The Bible as a whole and the book of Psalms, in particular, challenge us to ponder anew the immense riches of biblical prayer," the professor said.
Craghan is the author of 15 books, including a commentary on Exodus and Psalms for all Seasons.
He was the guest speaker at Scripturefest, an annual event put on by the Adult Education Commission to help Christians understand Scripture and how it relates to them in today's world. More than 200 people attended the event at Ukrainian Youth Unity Centre.
Craghan said psalms are both prayers to God and part of God's word to us. Christians can use the psalms as part of their prayers as well as listen to what the psalms might teach them about prayer and about God. The language of the psalms is such that it allows many people to make them their own prayers.
Psalms he recommended as prayers for the in-between of life, namely the times of normalcy when there are no great shocks, include Psalm 136, which tells us that creation is not limited to the beginning but continues throughout history.
Craghan also recommended psalms of descriptive praise, such as Psalms 8, 65 and 113 for the in-betweens of life. These psalms praise God for his ongoing, regular care of the world and humanity.
Although modern humans do not have a problem admitting the centrality of God in their lives, they find it difficult to grant centre stage to other humans.
"These psalms enable us to focus on God as the giver of gifts in an ongoing way and also remind us that God chooses to manifest himself/herself through others," he said. "The God of Israel seldom operates alone. To praise the co-creators (people) is to praise the Creator."
In Psalm 8 the author sets up a contrast between infants on the one hand and foes and enemies on the other. "Which way will we go? Will we be like little children who can break into praise of God the Creator or will we be like the couple in Genesis 3 who insist on their independence and will decide to show their independence simply by not doing what God asks of them."
This psalm exhorts us to be like infants, discovering and subsequently praising God, Craghan said.
At prayer people are often tempted to focus on the great moments of their lives. But Psalm 65 tells us that the God who checks kingdoms, restrains oceans and receives praise in the Temple also farms the land and is the head of the household who provides for the needs of the family.
"What this psalm teaches us is to look to the small moments as well, to the times of normalcy and humdrum affairs," Craghan said. "At prayer we are to count our blessings - our jobs, our abilities, but most of all our loved and loving ones."
For the downs of life, those times when chaos takes over, Craghan suggested biblical laments, prayers in which "we talk to God; we do not talk about God."
These prayers, he explained, "are protestations rooted in the power of our God to intervene. They contain an atmosphere of expectation that our God will hear and act on our behalf." What the laments presuppose is that my problem becomes God's problem.
The laments, both individual and communal, are a school of prayer, the theologian said, because "they demand that we meet life head-on and thereby avoid the role of faking and making believe."