I found this book to be extremely powerful when I start thinking about how I've approached the psalms in the past, and how we can begin to use the psalms as our own prayers and then allow our prayers to be transformed by the beauty and the power found in the raw language of these texts.
One of Brueggemann's points that I found to be helpful when talking about the psalms is that we should not shy away from the raw and powerful language found in the psalms. He raises, and I agree, that our culture has gotten focused on political correctness and precise language. This "correct" way of speaking has robbed our language of it's power to name, shape, and transform our emotions. We get so hung up on what we are about to say and we want to make sure that it conveys the exact feeling we are trying to get across, that we forget that emotions (and the language associated with them) are messy. Our emotions are not easily labeled or put away into precise, tidy holes. No, emotional language is precise, perhaps only because of its imprecision.
So too, the psalms are not neat, tidy poems. Instead they are often full of raw, concrete images that we feel a need to shy away from because, "You can't say that!" Instead, we can use this emotionally charged and raw language to give voice to the cries that are on the tip of our tongues. We can give our thoughts and feelings a name, and in giving them a name, we are able to start turning them over to the One who can bear the weight of our emotional burdens.
This might not seem like new information to some, and might be incredibly liberating for others - to hear again that even within our scriptures there are such songs, such poems, of raw power that allow us to name an experience that transcends our individual experience, while making each line, each feeling deeply powerful and personal - that is truly good news!
I think it also opens up to us new avenues of approaching the music that we listen to today. There are some songs that touch us in such a way, that even though we do not fully understand why we love them, we continue to listen to them over and over again. Their words become a part of our emotional vocabulary, even though the lyrics are not about us or our lives.
For example, Mat Kearney's "Nothing Left to Lose."
This is one of my favorite songs by Mat, and I love the imagery that he employs throughout the song. Even though I've not shared many of the experiences that his images draw upon, such as I'm a kid from Oregon, I still connect with the sentiments behind the song. It gives me a language to help me connect some emotional experiences with music and language and provides an outlet for someone who doesn't "really do feelings."
These kinds of connections are why I think "mix tapes" (even though they are cds or playlists now) make for excellent gifts, because the music provides language for thoughts and feelings that are deeper than words.
Now, some might shy away from this example, because they are "pop songs" not scripture, but I think there's a great deal of grace and gospel found in Macklemore's popular "Same Love."
These songs remind me of the psalms, because they contain images that evoke emotional responses, which in turn evoke prayerful sighs too deep for words.
The psalms provide us with beautiful (although sometimes terrible) images that allow us to allow our emotional imagination to find voice. That voice can then be turned to God, who is able to hear our cries, to hear our screams, to hear our voices raised in praise. And in turning over our cries, our screams, our praises to God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by God in those moments.
We turn over the pain, the fear, the rage, the joy, the beauty, and the terror over to the one who encompasses all of those feelings, who bears the weight of our burdens and shares in our delights. In handing over these things to God, we acknowledge that we are not alone in our joys and in our griefs. The entire people of God - Jews and Christians alike - have common experiences that transcends our Western ideas of individualism.
Moreover, I think that idea that we have common experiences transcending our individual identities is why popular music gets to be popular. We like the idea that around the country there are hundreds of thousands of people listening to the same song or, at the very least, are familiar with it. We like belonging to something larger than ourselves - we have a desire to live in a community. At our heart, we are social creatures.
The psalms give us something that brings us closer together than Billboard's Hot 100. They allow us to throw our emotions in with those of people who have come before us, not just our parents and grandparents, but for thousands of years. We can celebrate with those who have been returned from exile, we grieve with those who have lost everything, we rage with those who long for vengeance, and we repent with those who have fallen from grace. We invoke the language of the whole people of God and are transformed by that experience.
This is why we need to remember the psalms, not just in our liturgical settings, but in our daily prayer lives. We need to let the psalms stand for what they are, not what we want them to be. We need to allow the psalms to be transformative and emotional. We need to say them, trusting that the emotional responses they awaken within us will prayed by the Paraclete, the Intercessor when "sighs are too deep for words." We need to allow our language in prayer to be transformed by the language of the psalms and find freedom in the richness of the images there.