~ ~Things I Never Knew~ ~
“With gratitude in your hearts, sing psalms, and hymns,
and spiritual songs.”
Dear Members and Friends,
You could fill more than one book with the things I never knew. In fact, many books (surely most books) are already filled with exactly those things: facts and data that never took root in me. Perhaps like you, I specialize in a field of knowledge that I’ve mastered quite nicely. But I only have a smattering of knowledge about a great many other things. Geology, aquatic life, computer technology, how to play the oboe… I’m vaguely aware that lighters were invented before matches. I only learned recently that there were still mammoths walking the earth when the great pyramids of Egypt were built. And did you know that the national animal of Scotland is the unicorn? (Sorry, Scotland, you know I love you, but this unicorn thing helps explain why the Queen of England feels the need to take care of you. Besides, don’t you think a queen complements the whole unicorn / fairytale theme pretty nicely?) It’s interesting that humanity figured out how to travel to the moon before it ever occurred to us to put wheels on suitcases. There’s so much to learn in a year full of months, a week full of days, a life full of moments, and hours, all of them filled with new things to discover. We could never absorb them all.
I recently read about a woman who came to faith late in life. She marveled at the beauty and poignancy of the Psalms that she encountered in the Bible. A verse from Psalm 122 spoke to her heart in a profound way. It’s an ancient dream for Jerusalem—an old, old wish that has yet to be granted after all these centuries. The verse simply says, “Let there be peace within your walls and security within your towers.” She clung to that verse, committed it to memory, held it up to the light to examine it from different angles, like a jewel. She explains, “That’s what I need, peace in my towers. I never knew an old book like that one [the Bible] could say exactly what’s inside of me.” It’s amazing the things we can learn, no matter our age. I’ve known for decades that the Book of Psalms can speak to every human emotion that we face: shame, fear, joy, zeal, grief, contentment, wonder, longing. Whatever you’re feeling, try this little trick sometime: let your Bible fall open to the middle, at the Book of Psalms, and see if you don’t find that emotion expressed somewhere on the page.
Here’s something you might not know: The New Testament encourages us to sing those lovely old Psalms. (In two places, actually: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.) In fact, for a very long time, Presbyterians sang nothing but the Psalms, which were crammed edgewise into rhyming couplets and set to the same ten or fifteen tunes, which were used over and over. There were no Christmas carols, no hymns, just those beautiful Psalms of the Hebrew Bible.
One of my favorite things about Bower Hill Church is our endless desire to learn things. New things, old things, things we’ve forgotten, things we never would have believed. Because of their poetry and spiritual richness, we’re reviving the ancient practice of singing the Psalms in worship here at our church. Each Sunday, the daily Psalm will be set to music—sometimes the same music week after week—and placed between the first and second Scripture readings for the congregation to sing. We hope that this will be an exercise in discovery, as together we relearn the ages-old poems that shaped the Jewish and Christian faiths. Just like that woman newly converted to faith, perhaps we will be amazed at how an old book like that can say exactly what’s inside of us.