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Friday, October 24, 2014

"From Whom No Secrets are Hid" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (224 pages).

I have learned that the Psalms do three things to us. They orientate us. They disorientate us. They then re-orientate us. All these are necessary in order to reveal our true selves to God, and for God to be revealed to us. For Brueggemann, the Psalms open us up. Those who really want to understand Psalms, cannot simply approach it via a liturgical ritual, a psychological insight, or an intellectual exercise. They need to be honest and to let Psalms tease the fearful selves within us out toward an awesome God. This idea is succinctly described in the title of the book, which was inspired from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer,
"ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen."
In one word, the Psalms is about self-disclosure. It helps build community as secrets are shared. It dispels aloneness as people come together in common unity. It prepares one another for change. There are meaningful connections of disclosure for inner well-being.  It ushers us into the presence of the Divine. The Psalms bring together a complex range of emotions and spirituality. They are pluralistic, "highly stylized," and "designed for reperformance." There are prayers of thanksgiving and songs of praise. There are also psalms of lament and complaint. The beginning of each Psalm reveals the theological focus. Like Psalm 1 which points to the focus on the Torah or Psalm 2 on the significance of David and Israel's faith. Brueggemann also notes the five distinct books of the 150 psalms, which parallels the five books of the Torah. Yet, our problem is we have largely failed to grasp the depths of the Psalms because the Psalms are simply too "counter-world." Our world of "anxiety and scarcity" stands in stark contrast with the biblical promise of lavishness. Our culture of greed and self-dependence; denial and despair; all fail to wrestle well with faith, trust, and biblical hope. The way the Psalms reveal to us is via contrasting the world we know and the world God wants us to know.

Brueggemann has long been counter-cultural in his approach to reading Scripture. In the "Prophetic Imagination" which helped establish himself as a prominent scholar, he proposes an alternative community the people of God are called to live, especially in a world of oppression and resistance. His 2011 book entitled "Truth Telling as Subversive Obedience" also follows the same theme. His recent work on Sabbath is described as "resistance" to the world. Thus, with this book on Psalms, readers ought not to be surprised that Brueggemann draws out themes of resistance, subversiveness, and counter-cultural attitudes toward the world at large.

One example is the way he describes the use of praise as "imagination, not description"; "acts of devotion with political and polemic overtones"; that it is a form in which "doxology is the exuberant abandonment of self over to God"; and so on. He criticizes contemporary songs for their "preoccupation with self" and its overwhelmingly private styles. The Psalms countered the ancient idolatry around Israel. They reflect on creation (Ps 104). They help readers focus on the place of Jerusalem, the temple, and the people of God in God's covenant (Ps 46).  The scope is very wide from personal to community; from war to peace; from violence to restraint; from Jerusalem to the heavens; and many more.

So What?

Readers will discover a new-found respect for the Psalms. The main thing is not the extensive coverage of all things life but the deep honesty the Psalms will evoke in us. The words like disclosure, openness, revelation, frankness, and other adjectives tell us that those who are genuine in seeking the truths of the Psalms within pre-meditated ideas will find that it is not the reader who reads the Psalms to discover truth. It is the Psalms that read the person in order to reveal the truth. In order words, the Bible reads us, and not the other way round. We are reminded that for those who are hiding, reading the Psalms can be a scary thing as there is simply no way one can hide from God. The Psalms is a place where we can not only meet God, but let God meet us in our raw form.

Even though this book is presented as "Introducing the Psalms," I feel that this book is more of us introducing ourselves before God. The Psalms enable spiritual surgery of our heart. They challenge our thinking in counter-cultural ways. They present to us a world in which we will eventually proclaim like Moses in Exodus 15:11

"Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you-- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?"

This book guides us in that direction of reverence for the Psalms.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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