Psalm writing at Opoho

 

A small group of us meet at Opoho Presbyterian Church in Dunedin (New Zealand) every two or three months to encourage each other with our psalm writing. We like to begin by eating our evening meal of takeaways together before sharing a psalm (or two) that we’ve written since we last met. We read the psalms aloud and receive encouragement and useful feedback from the group. It has been surprisingly rich and worthwhile.

 

As one psalm writer said, “It makes you view the world differently through a psalm-like gaze”. One of us challenged herself to write a psalm a week during Lent while another sometimes writes psalms in response to issues in their workplace. Our psalms are very diverse as the following titles show: Psalm of the Cat, In Anticipation of Fish and Chips, On Being Presbyterian, and A 21st Century Psalm of Darkness.

 

Our psalm writing grew out of our bible study. A group of us at Opoho Church are almost half way through a 6½ year quest to read the Bible one book a month from Genesis to Revelation. Early in 2017 we discussed the book of Psalms and we thought it might be interesting to look at writing responses to particular  Biblical psalms or writing our own.

 

Since beginning writing psalms in the winter of 2017 we’ve often been asked “What is a psalm and how are they different to poems?” A psalm is a sacred song or hymn, in particular those in the Biblical book of Psalms. Psalms are about our relationships with God and a person or people’s faith understandings within our Judeo-Christian context. They are personal expressions of faith (although they can be used corporately) and, like songs, they use poetic devices as opposed to being, for example, a sermon in prose. One of us found that when she writes a psalm she is in a different head space to when she writes poetry.

 

Our psalms are expressions of our understandings of God, faith and life. We write  in our own language and they are very much located in this time and place we find ourselves in. Psalm writing is creative and can be surprisingly fun ~ and who knows, they might just speak to some one else too.

 

As well as being inspired by the Hebrew psalmists, being antipodeans it probably isn’t surprising that we are also indebted to two Kiwis and an Australian: Joy Cowley and her books of psalms (such as Psalms for Down-Under and Aotearoa Psalms), Silvia Purdie’s reinterpretations of the biblical psalms (see conversations.net.nz) and Jim Cotter’s Psalms for a Pilgrim People.

 

For more information email Rev. Margaret Garland at: marg.garland@gmail.com

A Psalm for All Seasons

 

Spring

 

Oh God, spring comes

imperceptibly, then unpredictably

days lengthen, earth warms

sensory overload, sneezing.

 

Season of new beginnings

colours and albatross return

daffodils cheer, ducklings waddle

season of [my own] birthing.

 

Time for fresh air, spring cleaning

planting, weeding

dreaming, planning

meanwhile the year flying by.

 

Creation relentlessly pulls us

full of faith in its own future;

season for growth and greening

bursting with hope.

 

I give thanks for spring.

 

 

Summer

 

Oh God, summer always comes

way before I’m ready

the year’s work stretching out,

Christmas coming too soon.

 

Sunny antipodean Christmas

is right side up down here,

feasting and Christmas trees

te harinui and pohutukawa.

 

Luxuriant growth, strawberries

tomatoes, peas off the vine

bird song, insects galore

season of butterflies and monarchs.

 

Summer sand, surf, play, re-creation

time to enjoy sun, hide from sun

New Year, no meetings

time for reflection, refreshment.

 

I give thanks for summer.

Autumn

 

Oh God, autumn comes

pushing back summer playfulness:

days shorten, temperatures drop

growth falters, golden leaves fall.

                                                 

Autumn: season of harvest

bounty for unknown future

preparations to stave off cold

nights lengthen, frosts come.

         

Nature slows, turns inwards,

essential decay and death:

laying down mulch

for eternal life.

 

Easter belongs to antipodean autumn

crossroads of life and death

crude cross, terrifying tomb:

death before life.

 

I give thanks for autumn.

 

 

Winter

 

Oh God, winter comes

whether I want it or not:

darkness, snow, floods

slips, icy roads, disruption;

 

stopping life as it was

until I work out it is time

to cosset the self

and germinate the spring.    

 

Much as I dream of

snorkeling and cherries

winter demands its place

in the rhythm of life.

 

There is only one choice: 

to become the winters ~  

the winters of our weather

and the winters of my soul

 

I give thanks for winter.

Life Without End

 

there can be no spring without winter

there can be no winter without autumn

there can be no autumn without summer

there can be no summer without spring

 

the cycle of seasons beginning nowhere

ending nowhere, one after another

the seasons come spilling into each other

life without end, thanks be to God

Tui Bevin       

A Psalm of Assurance

 

Holy God – you have us in hand.

You, who created all that is –

You, who knew us before we were conceived –

You, who turn our lives upside down with your truth, your Word –

You have us in the cradle of your hands.

 

Why is it then that I feel that a minute misstep of mine will curdle the universe?

Why do I consider something a misstep when you are smiling with delight at a heart that cares?

Why am I so hard on myself – do I not trust in you? 

 

Of course I do – but I really want to show you how well I can do too – when actually you want us to do this together.

 

So help me to know, not just in my head but also in my heart, that –

together we speak unlikely and unpolished words of truth,

together we create hope out of stumbling attempts to console,

together every moment, every action, every prayer offered in love is a touch of the Christ.

 

I am tired and my well was empty – yet in these words of prayer I am filled again, held in the cradle of God’s hands. Thanks be to God.

 

Margaret Garland

January 2018

A Flaming Prayer

 

Silence – what to do?

 

Enforced silence, expectant silence, courteous silence as she reads and I wait.

 

Love the candle – its flame is strong and dances almost.

 

There – it is absolutely still.  Perfect symmetry – peaceful, resting.

 

Now it swirls around – looking, seeking, watching – who needs me?

 

It erupts, jagged and bursting with energy – watcha me, watcha me - you can almost hear the childlike delight.  This way, that way, again and again……

 

Now it settles – but the top of the flame is gently pulsating as if waiting for the next move, a gracefilled heartbeat

 

Then rest.

 

A borrowed thought – within in the flame, dragged up from the source of its life – words of wisdom, hope, promise.  Spiralling round and up until they are released into the warm air that is above the flame.

 

The heart of the candle becomes the light, the light shows us the way, the way releases the word into the world.  Amen.

Margaret Garland

Praying: an attempt to unscrew the inscrutable

 

the moment of conversation before beginning and when ended

the peace of understanding that we are loved and belong

the cry of anguish when life is really hurting

 

wrestling with you, angry, bewildered, abandoned – yet never by you

holding others before you…

weeping for them with you…

working for them alongside you…

praying for self – for courage, for discernment, for forgiveness, for daily baptism

 

the prayer that is creation – held in wonder and beauty

the prayer of silence and stillness

the prayer of the body of Christ gathered together

 

praying karakia

a place of possibility and potential

the power to change and make right

a gift to make real the presence of the divine

 

whakawhetai ki te te Atua – amene

thanks be to God – amen

 

Margaret Garland