Last time, I discussed the need to embrace a spirituality which is present with our deepest selves. I shared about my own journey to come to more fully embrace all of who I am as something with which I can be present. I have since discovered that the Psalms, right in the heart of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, actually are a window to soul work and connecting with our own spirits, and God’s. One of my earliest memories of the psalms as such a tool was during my charismatic days. I still remember standing with a friend from high school at his Assemblies of God youth group, learning to lift my hands to the air, let myself feel my emotions and express them fully as I sang to God, the following songs:
That experience of becoming in touch with and open to my emotions was new to me. In her book The Will to Change bell hooks challenges her readers to acknowledge the way in which the first victims of patriarchy are at times boys, who are taught to damage their connection to their creativity and emotions. For, after all, to feel one’s emotions makes one weak, broken, and useless. A sissy, after all.
Her challenge is to help cultivate a culture in which women and men encourage people of all genders to fully embrace the depth of who they are, knowing there is a wholeness and strength found in embracing all of who you are.
Such experiencing of singing the psalms helped open my heart, a heart that had learned to shut off emotions out of experiences of personal and religious traumas over the years, for fear of being deemed too much, deemed too weak. It gave me one small opening in which to begin the long, slow journey of embracing all of who I am as capable of being a bearer of Christ’s image to myself and others.
Later on in life I came to embrace the Psalms as a way to prayer. It came during my time first as a student of Christianity and later as a minister.
I found moments words failed me. Reading great spiritual authors, I found they recommended the use of pre-written prayers such as the prayers of Scripture. I opened my Bible and found, lo and behold, a whole book of prayers.
I found such praying of the Psalms challenging. Not only did they invite me to pray with joy, gratitude, and love as the praise songs in the evangelical and charismatic movement, they also invited me to fully experience my grief, despair, feeling of rejection, anger, and rage. And when fully experienced, to express it unfiltered at least to God.
For me much of my life had been trying to manage my emotions, out of fear that they would be overwhelming as I had seen them be for members of my family dealing with alcoholism and mental illness whose emotionality in extremes really shaped me in my childhood.
I found praying the Psalms brought the dual gift of being able to both find words the Spirit gifted me with when my own words failed and also receiving an invitation to fully feel and experience the full range of emotions, while laying those full emotions before God in prayer.
In future blog posts, I want to discuss the power of the Psalms to connect us both with our own souls and also, through them, with Christ and others.
Your progressive redneck preacher,