Wednesday, December 1, 2010
In my Hebrew Scriptures class last night, we focused on the Book of Psalms. There are 150 psalms, divided into 5 collections. The Psalms functioned as a hymnal for the ancient Israelites. Even today, psalms are sung as hymns or chanted.
In the psalms we encounter the full spectrum of human emotions-- from despair to hope, from sadness to joy, from anger to praise. The psalms are basically prayers of individuals and the community offered to God. They are written in Hebrew poetry, giving them a power and beauty.
Poetry is "concentrated language" and can express and evoke our deepest emotions. For many, the psalms stir up feelings deep within us. The laments (the most common type of psalm) express our deepest human needs for a connection with God. The hymns of thanksgiving express our gratitude for life's many gifts. The hymns of praise put into words an awe that is beyond words.
The psalms were intended to be sung. St. Augustine once said, "When you sing, you pray twice." Words and melody are two ways of praying. In the psalms, both ways of praying converge. Singing the psalms gives them more power because of the ability of music to evoke and express our emotions.