Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What's unique

People ask me – so what's unique about your book on the psalms? Why would I be interested?

Perhaps there is no reason a person might be interested except desperation. But it is not likely that any writing of mine would cure the desperation of self-reflection that has created the human religious outlook.

I come to the Psalter as have a long list of people with prior experience and conviction. But it is only in the Psalter that I found an articulation of what forms me in relationship to myself and others in the covenant of mercy. I see this as formation by the God who made the heavens and the earth. That of course remains a matter of faith. In this case, I stress matter, for faith makes things happen in the world of our material investigation even if they seem invisible, unmeasurable, or unrepeatable. A most obvious example of this is the human response to shame and forgiveness. Shame and forgiveness are human experience. The psalms show us where we should be ashamed and how such a healthy conscience should also apply to those we consider our enemies. But my book is not a psychology book.

I came to the Psalter because it is the book that represents the conversation between the Father and the Son in the epistle of the Hebrews. This theological truth is too much to ignore. I read the psalms in Hebrew, a language I started to learn at age 60. Clearly this does not make me a lifelong expert. But this book has two unique features that show what I would have liked to have in my hands in the early stages of my learning. The first is that the text is not set out in an amorphous block. As far as possible in English and Hebrew I have tried to show the conceptual and prosodic form of the poems. The second is that I treat the Psalter as a whole and label each psalm with the words that are first used as a frame in that poem when the book is read in sequence.

I remain with the Psalter because it continues to teach me. As a result, what is in my book will be suggestive rather than complete or definitive. My words should always be taken with the grain of salt that is the word in the psalms. My uniqueness may also apply to the mistakes I can make.

The book is in process with a scheduled completion in two years. You can follow my sample chapters at the Poetry of Christ blog.