Writing Your Own Psalm
O God, you are like coffee to me!
. . . I thirst for you in the morning when I wake.
. . . Your warmth continues to travel through me.
. . . I return to you throughout the day and get renewed and refreshed.
Have you ever tried to write your own psalm? Does that sound intimidating, or maybe inappropriate? Granted, our psalms may never rise to the level of the poetic cadence of the biblical psalms, and they will never have the level of inspiration and revelation that David’s words do. But why not try it? If the psalms of Scripture breathe out of the anatomy of the psalmist’s soul, as John Calvin says, then why can’t our own psalms do much the same?
One Saturday I had the opportunity to do just that. I spent the day with a group of people at First Presbyterian Church of Homewood, Illinois, in a psalm-writing workshop, and we found it to be serendipitous. It was more delightful than we anticipated. Though we began with some misgivings, those soon disappeared and even those of us who vowed that we surely would never read to others what we wrote did so eagerly!
We began by acknowledging that just as we are complex persons with a range of emotions and needs, so the psalms are equally diverse to meet us in all those experiences. We took note of psalms that speak of trust, give comfort, cry out to God, shout praise, confess sins, make testimony, and even argue. We could easily identify all such emotions and experiences in our own lives too. So why not try to put our thoughts and feelings into words?
While there are many types of psalms, we focused on four in our workshop: psalms of praise (think of Psalm 8), of testimony (think of Psalm 46), of confession (think of Psalm 51), and of lament (think of Psalm 13). We reviewed each of these psalms in a half-dozen different translations and paraphrases, including the New International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, The Message, Psalms Now, 150 Psalms for Teens, and Psalms for Young Children.
And then it was time to begin our own writing. We established a number of guidelines that we would try to follow:
- We would write from the standpoint of faith; trusting God no matter what.
- We would try to write in poetic form, not prose; verse form, not paragraph.
- We would write with candor and honesty. The psalmists have taught us that pain and struggle can be freely expressed to God.
- We would allow our feelings and emotions to show through, because faith is more than knowledge and facts.
- We would try to use figurative speech, including metaphors and similes like the psalmists used.
- We would write reflectively after sorting through our own experiences.
- We would write as New Testament Christians, for we know the Messiah has come.
We scattered around the large comfortable parlor of the church and began to write . . . slowly. The group began with great hesitancy and a quick readiness to profess that they “wouldn’t be able to come up with much.” I watched them closely. Some sat quietly in prayer. Some seemed to be staring off into space. Some were fidgeting in their chairs, betraying their sense of discomfort. Some were showing a few tears.
Gradually they began to put their pens to paper. Words on a page! Then scratched them out and after a little while started over again. A few words, then more quiet, some sighs, and then a little more writing. It almost felt like we were waiting for the birth of a baby.
We broke for lunch and the diversion was good, but it seemed as if the participants weren’t very eager to share their thoughts with others. This seemed to be such “private” work.
After lunch we came back together and took a little while to review what we had written, then polished a little, scratching out some phrases and replacing them with something else.
We were all still struggling when it was time to share our psalms with each other. Though some had protested against doing that, all were now willing and eager to do so. It became a very sacred time together, a time of taking each other into our private worlds. Some read slowly, some with joy, some with tears, and some with uncertainty. But we all read. And in our reading we shared each other’s journeys in a beautiful way. We heard psalms of praise and thanks, of cries and pleas, and of testimony. Some were too personal to publish here, but one caught the attention of all of us for its creativity and realism. “God Is Like Coffee” (p. 31) came from the pen of C. Chris Dederer, a musician in the group.
Could YOU write a psalm? Try it.
Café Cantate Domino
A Coffee Psalm
You percolate . . . and the mere sound of you stirs me from sleep. I thirst
for you, O God, in the morning when I wake up. Your aroma permeates
my soul when I come into your presence. You pour yourself out and
shower me with blessings. You fill my cup with good things. Your
heat and steam rise as incense and fill my nostrils. I lift you up
with my hands and drink you into my being. Your warmth
penetrates my mouth. O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Your warmth continues to travel through me, warming my
gut. You dwell ever within me. You energize me, O God.
After a time, you give me energy to set about the tasks
you lay before me. I return to you, O God, throughout
the day, and get renewed and refreshed every time
I drink you in. O taste and see that the Lord is
good! You restore my soul and fill my senses.
You help me get through the day when
my sleepiness tries to keep me
from doing your will. O taste and see that the Lord is good.
O God, you are like coffee to me!
© 2012 by C. Christian Dederer. Written at the Festival of Psalms Weekend at First Presbyterian Church of Homewood, Illinois. (Used by permission.)