God is my rock, my fortress, and my saviour; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. (Psalm 18:2)
“Prayers are tools not for doing or getting but for being and becoming.” (Eugene Peterson)
P: We moved across town when I was about maybe 10 years old. And I had no friends, and I had a Bible that I’d purchased with my own money. And I started reading it because I had no friends. And somebody told me that the Psalms were a good thing to read, so I started reading the Psalms. And I couldn’t understand them. “God is a rock?” What does that mean? “My tears are in your bottle?” What is going on here? And I just kind of struggled with that, but people had told me it was important to read the Psalms. And about a month into that, I realized what they were. And I didn’t know the term “metaphor,” but I realized what metaphors were. And so then I was off … a metaphor is really a remarkable kind of formation because it both means what it says and what it doesn’t say. And so those two things come together, and it creates an imagination which is active. You’re not trying to figure things out; you’re trying to enter into what’s there …
T: You say that the Psalms train us in the conversation with God that is prayer … how do you work with the Psalms in your personal spiritual life?
P: … for years I have — the first thing in the morning, I have about an hour of just quiet and coffee. And — but I picked seven Psalms that I thought were, kind of covered the waterfront of what’s going on. And I memorized them. And I picked pretty long Psalms, so I’d have to work at it. And so, on Sunday, I do Psalms 92, which is a Psalm for the Sabbath. And then I go to Psalms 68, which is kind of a — it’s a collection of pieces of Psalms from different kind of settings, but when you read through the whole thing, and that’s a pretty long Psalm you realize all of these things kind of fit together if you’re paying attention …
They’re not logically connected. But then with an imagination, they start to fit together. That’s what I mean. And then Psalm 18 is a Psalm just full of metaphor. And just — you’re just overwhelmed by all the ways in which you can reimagine God working in your life. And on the just — I do seven of those. And I’ve been doing that for years. And so, then — you want to know the whole story?
P: Then I shut up.
P: And I just breathe deeply and for another 15, 20, 25 minutes, just try to empty myself of everything. But there’s enough going on through that first entry that it seeps into your imagination. And so you’re not really just emptying yourself, you’re emptying yourself of a certain amount of clutter so that the words you really need to know kind of fit in. Ω
Wonder: Which Psalms speak powerfully to you? Pray one now, then sit in silence and let the Psalm do its work. Or choose seven, and pray one each day of the week, week in, week out.
Eugene Peterson was interviewed by Krista Tippett at On Being. ‘The Bible, Poetry, and Active Imagination’: Listen or read the full transcript at https://onbeing.org/programs/eugene-peterson-the-bible-poetry-and-active-imagination-aug2018/. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.
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