This past week I attended the Worship Symposium at Calvin. One session I attended was entitled “Psalms for the Unbaptized”. Kevin Adams makes a simply point. Often times the words of the psalms can speak the language of prayer and faith amid troubling experiences in a way that touches the heart of the unbeliever. Perhaps what particularly helps is when we can quote the psalm from memory rather than opening the bible to read it.
I grew up detesting memorization. Perhaps it was the era or the way it was used or my inability (unwillingness) to do the work. But it seemed to me that some of the stories certainly were effective precisely because it came from memory. To recite from memory means it is easily accessible and could be used effectively the instant the conversation took that particular turn. But because the text recited comes from a public shared text – in this instance, the Bible – it is more than just sharing personal experience. If the Psalm is one like the 23rd, the text is already part of the familiar to even the unbaptized. The common text opens up our common experience. And when the text is the Bible – perhaps particularly the psalms, it allows us to converse about human experience with the added dimension that “our world belongs to God.”
All this makes me think about the work of elders and the power of the Psalms. Anyone engaged in pastoral care has used the psalms to comfort and encourage members of the congregation. So it occurred to me that perhaps one way of training elders (and pastors) in the work of pastoral care is to encourage the memorizations of the psalms.
And then I wondered: if we had a program of training for elders, which psalms should be memorized? Which ones would be most useful as a starting point? Why? Of course we could encourage people to memorize all, but that seems to longer project. I image psalm 23 would be among them. Psalm 130 would be quite helpful. How about psalm 88 – would this help us as we speak to the despairing? Or psalm 64 – would this help in dealing with gossip?
Which ones would you include? Which ones have helped your ministry to those seeking pastoral care?