An Open and Unafraid Look at the Psalms

I love this short film on Bono (lead singer for the Irish rock band U2), Eugene Peterson (author of The Message and so many other fine books on Christian life and ministry), and their common interest in the Psalms.

The film is based on interviews by David Taylor, a faculty member at Fuller Seminary, who appears in the film as part of the conversation with Eugene and Bono, and had a hand in the film’s production. So of course when I heard about Taylor’s new book on the Psalms, I was eager to read and review it: Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life by W. David O. Taylor (Thomas Nelson, 2020).

But then my husband became seriously ill, and caring for him meant setting aside many things including that book review. Yet during those long months of his recovery, I kept turning to the Psalms, and now that my husband is so much better I’m finally catching up with myself and ready to write that review after all.

I highly recommend Taylor’s open and unafraid approach to the Psalms. His book is both engaging and scholarly, devotional and studious, full of solid content plus questions for reflection and exercises to help individuals and groups interact with the Psalms. My Kindle copy is full of highlights, and here I’ll share just a few to give you a sense of the book, and you can also read an excerpt made available by Thomas Nelson.

On Community

We choose our friends, but we do not choose our congregation. This is an additional insight that the Psalter offers to the communal dimension of faith. A congregation is a specific kind of community. We may share certain theological convictions, we may be drawn by particular cultural preferences; we may be united by language or ethnicity. But if it’s a healthy congregation, it will include people who don’t like what we like, who don’t think like we do, and who talk about God in ways that we find weird, dull, or off-putting.
 
This is a deeply good thing.

On Prayer

While personal prayer is a basic concern of the psalms, the psalms would also have us pray for our neighbors and for the world. This includes, for instance, the sorrows of our neighbor, the need for justice, the absurdity of evil, the reality of death, the miraculous gift of new life, the care of creation, and the requirement to bear witness to the nations of God’s steadfast love. The psalms take us on an outward journey as often as they take us on an inward journey.

On Sadness

What we find in these psalms of lament, it is important to stress, is never mere sadness. We find instead sadness before the face of God. For here there is never mere complaint; here there is complaint brought to God, rather than kept from God.

On Joy

Prayer: God of joy unspeakable, you have not created us so that we should merely endure existence. You have created us rather for delight and you have filled our mouths with laughter. Turn our tears into songs of joy, change our wailing into dancing, make our wilderness blossom with life, so that with the morning stars we might sing for gladness. . . .

On Life

A sample exercise from the book:

Write down fifty things, however small or big, simple or grand, you are grateful for in your life. Consider sharing this list with a friend and bearing witness to one another of God’s gift of life to you.

In his endorsement, Eugene Peterson calls Open and Unafraid, “A book you will want to read and read again.” That’s true for me, as I’m already starting to re-read parts of this excellent book.

Disclosure: Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a complimentary copy of Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life by W. David O. Taylor (Thomas Nelson, 2020). The choice to review and any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.

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For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better:

Author: April Yamasaki

I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Publications include On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: AprilYamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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