The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

15
Toughening Texts:
Lament, Recovery, and Praise

Our survey of the history of Jewish and Christian communities through the centuries has revealed a whole array of uses of the Psalms. In the course of this historical survey, we have touched on several issues that need more systematic treatment, questions that revolve around how the Psalms function for worshiping communities, and it is these theological and practical issues that I address in this and the following chapters. I hasten to say, however, that I speak in this part of my work only as a Christian; there is no way I can offer any theological reflection for Jews.

All these issues arise essentially because of the distance between the Psalms and us. In this chapter I want to bring the Psalms directly to bear upon our patterns of worship, to explore not only how the Psalms may be a vehicle for worship but how they may even extend and toughen our experience of worship. Then I reverse the matter in chapter 16, bringing our patterns of worship to bear upon the Psalms, and I there discuss two recurrent issues: how we have excluded from our usage certain psalms or verses of psalms, and whether that exclusion is a good or bad thing. I turn in chapter 17 to the process of translation, dealing with what happens when we move the distance from the Hebrew text of the Psalms to our current languages. Then I move out in chapter 18 from linguistic translation to what might be called “ecclesial translation,” that is, the strains that the Psalms undergo in serving as vehicles of worship for communities beyond the original context of the Psalms—as vehicles for Christian worship and as vehicles for women’s experience. Finally, I attempt in chapter 19 to make a “theological translation,” trying to discern how one might use the entire Psalter today as an expression of God’s will for our worship. To be sure, all these issues are closely interrelated, but it is still useful to try to deal with them one by one.


How Not to Use the Psalms

Before we consider how the Psalms may serve as a vehicle for our worship and may even extend our worship, it is useful to ponder how they are not to be used. In

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