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.
Available for download are a collection of psalms from the first two years, and psalms and other writings from around the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
A Psalm for All Seasons
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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