Dr. Timothy Tennent: A 150-Day Journey for 2022
Many of us are probably aware that in the early 19th Century England produced a heavily redacted Bible to be used and distributed among slaves in the British West Indies. Predictably, they removed things like the Exodus story which tells about the liberation of the slaves, or the famous text in Galatians 3:8 which declares, “that there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.” Other well-known references to slavery were left in, such as “slaves, be obedient to your masters….” However, I never realized, until a recent CT article pointed it out to me, that the entire book of Psalms was omitted from the Slave Bible.
We don’t often think of the book of Psalms as a subversive book, but anyone who spends time with the Psalms finds that it is a book which highlights endless struggles against oppression and injustices. The book of Psalms is the ultimate cry for justice. It is filled with searing questions asked to God in a way which you would never experience in a modern-day hymn or chorus. In a day when we are all facing endless challenges and difficulties, we need to spend more time with the Psalms.
In 2011, as a part of our own spiritual journey, my wife Julie and I decided to spend an hour a day sitting in the presence of a Psalm. We originally entered into this as a 150-day journey, but it brought us to such a deeper place, we decided, at the end of our 150 days, to start over from the beginning and do it again. Well, as they say, “the rest is history.” We are now in our 22nd trip through the Psalms and it has become integral to our daily rhythm of prayer. Now, a decade into this practice, I cannot imagine starting the day without the Psalms. Following long-standing church practice we use a metrical psalter which enables us to sing the psalm rather than just read it. After all, the Psalms were written to be sung, so we should sing them, not just read them. Singing has a way of implanting things deep in your heart in a way that reading doesn’t do. A metrical psalter simply takes the words of a Psalm and sets them in some regular metrical pattern which can then be matched with tunes you probably already know. So, for example a Psalm can be set to common meter and be sung to familiar tunes like “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” or “Amazing Grace.” Common meter is a well-known metrical pattern of 8 syllables followed by six syllables: a/ma/zing / grace / how / sweet / the / sound – which is followed by: that / saved / a / wretch / like / me. These settings allow any psalm written in that pattern to be sung to that tune. So, let’s try it, shall we? Here are the poignant and powerful words of a portion of Psalm 63 which I want you to try singing to the tune of Amazing Grace:
O God, You are my God, and I will seek you earnestly.
My soul does thirst my body longs; with you I want to be.
I’m in a day and weary land, where water can’t be found.
But I have seen You in Your house with glory all around.
Your love is better far than life; Your name I’ll glorify.
I’ll praise You long as I may live, And lift my hands on high.
Over the centuries the church has produced many metrical psalters to help the church experience the Psalms in a deep way. In 2017, Julie and I published our own metrical psalter so that we could offer it to the church for free to promote psalm singing among God’s people. It is available for free at psalms.seedbed.com. One of the advantages of this site is that every psalm also comes with various choices of hymn tunes you can choose from and if you hit the button you can hear Julie playing that tune on the piano in a continuous loop while you sing the psalm. Some people really like this option because they struggle with singing tunes without accompaniment. It is also available in hard copy from Seedbed publishers. I like using the hard copy so I can make notes in the margins.
As we start this New Year, we are all facing many challenges. A recent study of pastors during the pandemic revealed that 38% of pastors had thought about giving up their vocation and calling because they found navigating through the challenges of COVID so difficult. Undoubtedly, the ecclesial landscape has been dramatically changed by the pandemic. You may be wondering what the “new normal” will look like. The one advice I would give you during 2022 is to try a 150 journey through the Psalms. Sing a Psalm a day and see, over time, what God will do in your life. I can say from personal experience that it will be profound and you might just find yourself deciding to go a second or third round!