March 27, 2020

Writing a Psalm Prayer

One of my “go-to” books when preparing the Sunday liturgy is Everyday Psalms by James Taylor. When the Psalm reading for the day is just too bogged down in ancient language to hold immediate meaning in today’s world. I also turn to this book when reality of the writer of the Psalm’s or its intended audience in historical context is out of sync with today’s reality in the Middle East.

What James Taylor does is take the Psalms, one at a time, looking for the deep spiritual and emotional stance of the writer, and then paraphrases it to reflect the reality with which he is familiar. This is something we also can do. It can be a very prayerful exercise, to write your or Psalm (or Song) expressing your reality to the listening ears of God.

Here is a challenge then for today. Pick a psalm (not too long a one to begin with) and update. You might want to read it a few times, and leave it aside. Let it rest and ask yourself: how might that sound today if it was me writing it in my circumstances.

To give you some idea of what I am talking about, and perhaps to inspire you to pen your own psalms of life and faith, I am going to present you two of the three paraphrases of James Taylor’s version of the much-loved Psalm 23. The second of paraphrases I have used in a funeral service for a family not used to hearing the Bible in versions familiar to us.

A Crowded Mall – definitely not something we would find on this day. At least the stress of crowded malls is “off the table” for a while. I included this picture because the 1st paraphrase of Psalm 23 references the stress of mall shopping.
Psalm 23 - Blessed Relief
1 God keeps a cool café. What more could I ask?
2 She provides a comfortable chair to take the weight off my weary 
feet; she puts up an umbrella to shade me from the sun;
3 she serves me iced tea.
4 Though I have battled with the crowds at the bargain counters, 
though I have suffered the scent of too many sweaty bodies, I don’t 
care. 
5 I know what’s waiting for me at the end of the day. An ice cream 
cone. It drips over the edges, and I lick it up gratefully. I close my 
eyes; the sound system plays the gentle chuckles of waves lapping 
on a shore. 
6 I am content. I would love to sit here forever. In God’s cool café.
Taylor, James. Everyday Psalms . Wood Lake Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

Psalm 23 - Looking Back on a Full Life
During a memorial service, John Smith suggested that Psalm 23 could 
have been written by an older person, reflecting on a long and full life. 
The first line of verse 6 is adapted from “A New Creed” of the United
 Church of Canada. 
1 God has walked with me; I could ask nothing more. 
2 God has given me green meadows to laugh in, clear streams to 
think beside, untrodden paths to explore. 
3 When I thought the world rested on my shoulders; God put things 
into perspective. When I lashed out at an unfair world, God calmed
 me down. When I drifted into harmful ways, God straightened me
 out.  God was with me all the way.  
4 I do not know what lies ahead, but I am not afraid. I know you will 
be with me. Even in death, I will not despair. You will comfort and
 support me. 
5 Though my eye dims and my mind dulls, you will continue to care 
about me. Your touch will soothe the tension in my temples; my 
fears will fade away. I am content. 
6 In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with me. All through 
life, I have found goodness in people. When life ends, I expect to be 
gathered into the ultimate goodness of God.
Taylor, James. Everyday Psalms . Wood Lake Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Whether or not you take up the challenge re-workig a psalm in your own words, perhaps the paraphrases of James Taylor will bring some comfort to your own life.

May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto and you. May God show you every compassion and give your peace. Amen.

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