May 2021

Sing to the Lord a new song

The eagle-eyed among you will not need me to tell you that those words open two psalms - 96 and 98. They were passing though my mind as I wrote my piece for April’s newsletter, as they are a powerful reminder that our worship must be alive and fresh - that the moment we find ourselves wanting to do the same thing in the same way because that it what we make us feel comfortable to is the moment when our alarm bells need to start ringing.

Psalms are like that. They say things to us which can be startling and unsettling. Along with many of you, I am sure, I say Morning and Evening Prayer each day, and, that way, we find ourselves reading all of the psalms regularly. I remember someone once asking me whether that was not just boring going through the same thing over and over again, and I had to say that, in fact, it is rather like taking a country walk. You can walk the same route many times, but it is never the same. There is always something new and arresting - perhaps caused by the weather or the sunlight, or perhaps by new growth or whatever: any way, it is never the same. So it is with the psalms. I have lost track of the number of occasions when on reading the psalms, a verse - and often an all too familiar verse - suddenly strikes me with unexpected force and meaning - perhaps because of recent experiences, events or happenings - and I find something new being said to me. 

There are many misconceptions about the psalms, one of them being that many of them were written by King David. It was, I fear, the convention of the time that books were ascribed to important people to give them a certain authority. So - and I hope this does not cause distress - Solomon did not write The Song of Songs, or The Proverbs or even, counterintuitively, The Wisdom of Solomon. Just so, we do not know who it was who actually wrote the psalms. And I quite like that, as it means that we are left with 150 extraordinary poems, all of them anonymous - all of them written by ordinary people, just like us. And that is important, because they were written by people who had the same human weaknesses - and strengths - as us.

It was the rule at the school where I taught for over 30 years that, for Sunday chapel, the boys had to turn up wearing white shirt, school tie, dark suits and dark shoes. I will not begin to describe the uniform that was decreed that the girls should wear to mirror this. And this always made me feel uncomfortable as it seemed to give the message that we need to present ourselves to God as he wants us to appear - or even worse as we think he wants us to appear. But we need to form a relationship with God, and you cannot form a relationship with anyone if you present yourself as anything other than that which you are. (I speak as someone who under current rules is required to  take services wearing a blue dress with various other accoutrements based upon classical Roman costume.)

But the fact is that all too often, we hide ourselves from God and, in particular, we pretend we are in some way angelic while - let’s be honest - most of us aren’t. 

The psalmists had no such inhibitions. And, for us, that is one of their strengths, for they enable us to express ourselves just as we are - no matter how disagreeable we think God might find that. And if you have any doubts about that, then have a gentle skim through psalms 58, 83 and 109, to pick just three. 

The psalms - like all poetry - enable us to express ourselves in way we otherwise could not. They enable us to be open in our relationship with God. What is important is, of course, that in addition to talking to God, we are prepared to let God talk to us as well. That way we can let him help us make ourselves new, so that we can truly sing to the Lord a song that is always new.

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