Monday, November 24, 2014

No Secrets Are Hid!

From Whom No Secrets Are Hid, Introducing the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann and edited by Brent A. Strawn is published by WestminsterJohnKnox at It is not Brueggemann's first on the Psalms, but he thinks of this one as "an invitation to growth in faith" and he hopes that it will "lead some to a deeper sense of worship in churches that read, sing, or chant the Psalms." I hope with him that this book will help expand the number of Psalms that are used in worship. He's right. Only a few of the Psalms among the 150 are a part of weekly worship and sometimes the Psalm of the day is skipped over with no comments.

The title of Brueggemann's book is part of a well-known and often used prayer in worship (BCP 355). God knows our secrets, even when we have not shared them with anyone else. Brueggemann reminds us that the Psalter includes the secrets of the human heart and community, and when spoken "out loud in speech and song in the midst of the community," these words are important, even "indispensable," he writes, "for the social and economic health of the body of faith and the body politic." The Psalter that was important for the Israelites, is important for Christians as well.

We may know only a few of the Psalms by heart, and Brueggemann notes that we are drawn to the Psalms, and yet we flee from them. Why? Perhaps because we are part of two worlds: our "closely held world," that is, our every day world that we both welcome and dread, and the other world, the Psalms' "counter world," where voices and words call us to a world in tension with our every day world. We want a new, improved world where the Good Shepherd will be near. And so we cling to the Psalms and the God who occupies that counter world "scripted for us in the Psalms."

Brueggemann looks at many groups of Psalms: 22 and 23, 29, 68, 104, 117, 140--150 to name a few, and he explains their meanings and uses by the people of ancient Israel, He says there is "a direct line of continuity from the old song of Moses (Exod. 15:18) through the Psalms to the prophetic declaration of Isaiah (52:7) to the announcement of Jesus and by Jesus, to the hope of the book of Revelation to the present." He reminds us that we are late participants in this "generative act of enthronement," but in our liturgies, we are like ancient Israel, regularly reasserting that the world is under the governance of the God of justice and righteousness, and the Psalms have "immediate implications for social practice and policy." Our singing and saying these poems is an act of hope that God's rule prevails and includes a resolve for us to participate. There is much more....find time to study it....

---Lois Sibley,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Shaping the Prayers...

Shaping the Prayers of the People, The Art of Intercession by Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher offers many ideas and suggestions for both clergy and lay people who have the responsibility of preparing the prayers that are used in the worship services at their particular churches. Both Wells and Kocher have spent time planning and preparing specific prayers for use in congregations in both Duke University Chapel and the surrounding churches and neighborhoods in that part of North Carolina. Kocher mentions how God's people have been "insisting," that they needed a book like this and the pressure, almost nagging, she says, finally brought them to the task of improving worship services and especially the prayers of the people. Wells reminds readers that the ones who pray, who intercede for all who are present, know it is a duty to plan and prepare their prayers. He wants this book to show that intercession is not just a duty, but a joy, and he and Kocher are eager to explain why, and how to live it.

 Published by Eerdmans, more information can be found at To begin, Kocher and Wells give a little history of American churches, and how prayers were put together. Sometimes it was a Pastoral Prayer given by clergy, sometimes prayers were woven together from "revivalist traditions," and sometimes lay people were encouraged to just put together the cares and concerns of the members of the congregation. Among all the churches, there are many different styles of worship. Wells and Kocher are accepting differences and looking at them as opportunities for those intercessors who lead prayers to think carefully about what they are doing.

Their book has two parts: theory and practice. The authors say it is designed to answer the question: "Teach us to pray," and intercessors will take from it what they find helpful and that's good. The authors are offering "grace and joy" in planning prayers, "not new laws or rote" on how to do it. But I think that in the first five chapters, they cover just about every angle of how to plan and pray as intercessors. It shows, as they begin with words like: propose, suggest, explore, choose. And they remind us that Jesus described prayer as: "Ask, Seek, and Knock."

In the second part, Kocher and Wells offer samples of prayers under three headings: Seasons, Ordinary Time, and Occasions. Some of these prayers go back many years and some have been more recently prayed, remembered, and shared. These prayers take us through the church year and there are brief paragraphs suggesting how they might be used. The final two pages are a Checklist for Preparing the Prayers of the People that intercessors may find helpful.

---Lois Sibley,