Brueggemann & the Psalms – 1

One of the most influential theological figures in my life has been Walter Brueggemann. And perhaps no work of his has been more powerful to me than his book “The Message of Psalms: A Theological Commentary”

Brueggemann offers a practical framework for reading and reflecting on the Hebrew prayer book. That framework is: Orientation, Disorientation, New Orientation. Laying out this framework, or themes, in his introduction to the book, he writes:

a) Human life consists in satisfied seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude for the constancy of blessing. Matching this we will consider ‘psalms of orientation,’ which in a variety of ways articulate the joy, delight, goodness, coherence, and reliability of God, God’s creation, God’s governing law.

b) Human life consists in anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering, and death. These evoke rage, resentment, self-pity, and hatred. Matching this, we will consider ‘psalms of disorientation,’ poems and speech-forms that match that season in its ragged, painful dissaray. This speech, the lament, has a recognizable shape that permits the extravagance, hyperbole, and abrasiveness needed for the experience.

c) Human life consists in turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through the despair. Where there has been only darkness, there is light. Corresponding to this surprise of the gospel, we will consider ‘psalms of new orientation,’ which speak boldly about new gift from God, a fresh intrusion that makes all things new.

These psalms affirm a sovereign God who puts humankind in a new situation. In this way, it is proposed that psalm forms correspond to seasons of human life and bring those seasons to speech. The move of the seasons is transformational and not developmental; that is, the move is never obvious, easy, or ‘natural.’ It is always in pain and surprise, and in each age it is thinkable that a different move might have been made. – (from pg. 19.)

Brueggemann’s framework of Orientation, Disorientation, and New Orientation is helpful in so many ways. But what I find to be most helpful, is that our “common prayerbook”, our Hebrew collection of prayers, our “answering speech to God” is, not only available to us, but is also accessible to us at every turn of our lives. And the deeper I go with the Psalms, the richer my own answering speech to God becomes.

As I travel again with Brueggemann through his theological commentary, I hope to blog that journey and share it with you. So that you too may be richly blessed, as I have been.

I leave you now with a piece of a Psalm of Orientation:

“As for me, I said in my prosperity,
‘I shall never be moved.’
By thy favor, O Lord,
Thou hadst established me as a strong mountain.” (Psalm 30:6-7a)


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