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Page: Psalms-Language of Prayer

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The Book of Psalms is unique in the Bible as the only book which consists entirely of prayers. The psalms rightly merit designation as “The Prayer Book of the Bible”. 


The psalms are poetic speech in which the psalmists express an enormous range of understandings of God, self, and community as they talk to God in language that employs dynamic, and often extravagant imagery. 


The timelessness of the psalms is directly related to the poetic nature of their language. When the psalmists pour out their life experiences to God, they do so in poetry, not prose. To comprehend these prayers, as C. S. Lewis wrote, the Psalms must be read as poems – otherwise, we shall miss what is in them and think we see what is not. 


When the psalmists pour out their life story to God they do so with freedom, extravagance, attentiveness to compositional detail, and all the excesses allowed by Hebrew poetry. In the psalms, the human spirit gives voice to a range of emotions more intense than those encountered in everyday language. Poetry is not literal, not matter-of-fact, not straightforward. 


The psalmists are unafraid to stand with God and to ponder their life experiences closely. The psalmists look unflinchingly at their lives. They surrender to God their good times and their bad times. Their prayers reflect an attitude of trust that all life experiences are appropriate topics of conversation with God. What the superscriptions suggest and the words of the psalmists confirm is that everyday experiences are the stuff of poetry and prayer. Everyday experiences disclose the Holy. 


Source: Quoted and adapted from Toni Craven, The Book of Psalms (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992), 35-42. 


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