There are 150 Psalms in the Hebrew Bible. And I thank God for the psalms on what feels like a daily basis. Why? Because I am so glad that the faith tradition that I practice, teach, and represent has poetry at the heart of its sacred scripture.
While reading this post here’s a song of mine based on Psalm 95. It’s called, “Am Marito.”
The poetry of the Psalms, found in the heart of the Hebrew Bible, gives voice to the full range of human emotions. Joy, sadness, exaltation, despair, faith, doubt, confusion, certainty, comfort, anxiety, hope, and so many more. It’s not just important that these emotions are voiced by the psalmist. It’s essential. It’s essential because there are some thoughts, feelings, and dimensions of the human experience that can only be translated into writing through poetry.
Too many people have a limited view of what they consider to be religious feelings and behaviors. They associate religion with serenity, certainty, pleasantness, devotion, conviction and sometimes a bit of arrogance or chauvinism. But there’s so much more to it. And the psalms represent the expansive potential in religious life.
Similarly, too many people have a limited view of what they consider to be religious activities– praying celebrating holidays, studying Torah. First of all, these certainly can be religious activities but they can also be decidedly unreligious, depending on a person’s intentions. The Psalms remind us that anything can be a spiritual or religious activity if we think of it that way. Waking up, breathing, a kind gesture from a friend, a moment of hurt or suffering, participating in a favorite activity, enjoying a delicious meal, any life experience can inspire the psalm within us.
The traditional Jewish view of the psalms is that they were written by King David. David was a shepherd, a warrior, a lover, a friend, a father, a builder, legislator, a musician, an ecstatic, and eventually an old, decrepit, and terrified human being. Every king should write poetry like David did. Every king and every person.