Experiencing the Psalms

Britt Cicognani

10 September 2020

Ever wondered what the most popular book of the Bible is? Well a Google search quickly reveals that it’s the Psalms. I am not surprised. In our Bibles there is no other book quite like the Psalms. Why? Well because they are raw and real. Within the book we find the full gamut of human emotions and the cries of the authors speak to our lived experiences like no other Scripture does.

What exactly are the Psalms? C.S. Lewis writes - ‘the psalms are not doctrinal treatises or even sermons… but poems, poems designed to be sung’. He’s right. Psalms are songs. And just as Shakespeare’s plays are supposed to be experienced rather than simply read (or so my English teacher told me when reading King Lear did absolutely nothing for me), so too the psalms are to be experienced. Like all good music, the psalms can be played and replayed, pondered on and enjoyed. They provide catharsis - they are a way to process, to celebrate and to grieve. That’s why we love the psalms, because they penetrate our hearts and minds in way that only music can.

The book of Psalms contains 150 individual songs written at all different times throughout Israel’s history, by a variety of authors including some big-ticket names like Moses, Solomon and King David (it’s debated how many he wrote, but it is very likely a real big chunk of them). Here’s the very neat thing though, while each individual psalm has its story to tell, the book of Psalms is also one big narrative. As my friend Andy Judd puts it, ‘Psalms is not so much like a Spotify playlist that you put on shuffle, but one major concept album designed to be listened to from start to finish (he is an Old Testament lecturer AND musician so I feel like he would know).

The editor of Psalms, who I feel must have been exceptionally clever, has compiled these songs in such a way that the book as a whole is what Martin Luther refers to as a “little Bible”. For, he states, “in it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible”. Isn’t that nifty?! Props to the editor (and the Holy Spirit), for compiling 150 works into a concept album that takes the listener on a journey through the whole story of salvation – from creation, to exile, to redemption and finally to the renewal of all things.

With all this in mind it is little wonder that, much like an excellent album, the psalms have been treasured for generations. The Psalms were used as a kind of hymn book in Israel’s temple, they were used by the early church (see Colossians 3:16), they were used by Benedict when he formed the monasteries. In medieval times, the Psalms was often the only book that the laity owned and the Psalms were used extensively by the Reformers (Calvin and Luther were big Psalms fans). A quick scan of church history shows that the psalms should be a faithful feature in the life of every individual believer and church. To paint the picture, Psalms are to the Bible what Arnott’s assorted biscuits are to church morning teas – a deservedly staple ingredient in the diet and appropriate for every occasion.

And so, in the midst of this pandemic I am excited to follow suit of the many, many believers who have come before us. To immerse ourselves in the book of Psalms – to experience the songs, to listen to the ‘whole album’ and to make it a staple in our diet. And like those who have come before I am looking forward to delighting daily in the richness, the rawness and the beauty of these songs that lead us to praise the LORD.

Britt Cicognani

Britt is a Discipleship Minister at City on a Hill Melbourne. She grew up in Sydney and worked as an Occupational Therapist before moving to Melbourne 4 years ago to work at City on a Hill. Britt is passionate about Christmas, breakfast buffets and sunny weather. However, she is most passionate about Jesus and delights in seeing men and women come to know and love him more.