Necessary songs: The case for singing the entire Psalter | The Christian Century

11 Jan

When I asked my dad what songs he sang in church during the war, he explained that with his native Netherlands under Nazi occupation, worshipers couldn’t sing anything that smacked of nationalism—nothing that would undermine the powerful oppressors. Corrie ten Boom, famed author of The Hiding Place, wrote about her brother’s imprisonment for intoning the national anthem on the organ after a church service. But in my father’s conservative Calvinist congregation, this was not an issue. They would not think of singing the national anthem in the liturgy. They would not even sing hymns. They stuck to psalms sung to the Genevan tunes that had been handed down by John Calvin. The Nazis saw the church’s Psalter as innocuous. Little did they know.

My father recounted, “In the morning we might sing strains of Psalm 68 . . . ‘Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.’” The lofty melody made the text soar. God comes in procession and leads the captives to freedom. This psalm, and many like it, ennobled the church to assert its voice, to nerve a people who were resisting the forces of evil. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.”

Martin Tel’s words touched me. It so happens I am reading through the Psalms on my own at the moment. His opening comments above in his article in the current Christian Century reminded me not only of the Dutch resistance in World II, but of other historical occasions when such psalms could have been, and even were, used.

It also reminded me of my mother’s death in 1995, at the beginning of my first sabbatical. I spoke at her memorial service, and I decided to use Ps. 137–all of it. Looking back, I think the psalm gave her a voice, and perhaps a voice for others, too. At least I hope so.

I am falling even more in love with the Psalms than I have been before. Perhaps it is the inner monk along with the historian in me … You can find Tel’s entire article here: Necessary songs: The case for singing the entire Psalter | The Christian Century.

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