Skip to main content

Psalms 1-4

C. S. Lewis’ insight into the Psalms is rich and deep. I am so glad he put his thoughts on this into a book: Reflections on the Psalms. However, before doing that, he wrote an essay on the Psalms, reprinted in a book called Christian Reflections. There he says,
The dominant impression I get from reading the Psalms is one of antiquity. I seem to be looking into a deep pit of time, but looking through a lens which brings the figures who inhabit that depth up close to my eye. In that momentary proximity they are almost shockingly alien; creatures of unrestrained emotion, wallowing in self-pity, sobbing, cursing, screaming in exultation, clashing uncouth weapons or dancing to the din of strange musical instruments. Yet, side by side with this, there is also a different image in my mind: Anglican choirs, well laundered surplices, soapy boys’ faces, hassocks, an organ, prayer-books, and perhaps the smell of new-mown graveyard grass coming in with the sunlight through an open door. Sometimes the one, sometimes the other, impression grows faint, but neither, perhaps, ever quite disappears.
Lewis lived with the Psalms, day in and day out, to an extent that few people do anymore, other than nuns in a nunnery or monks in a monastery. The Psalms were part of every Sunday worship service Lewis attended. They were also part of the daily services he would have experienced in college in term time. If Lewis did not hear the Psalms read aloud in worship, he would have been reading them on his own on a daily basis as he read the morning and evening services in the Book of Common Prayer. In fact, it is quite likely that Lewis read through, or listened, to all of the Psalms every month throughout his adult Christian life. Therefore, as we blog our way through the Psalms over the coming days, I think we will find many of Lewis’ insights most helpful.
The Psalms are so important, and so rich, that we really should spend a single day on each Psalm. However, to do that will throw off our plan of reading through the C. S. Lewis Bible in a year. Thus, my goal will be to handle four psalms per day.
While Lewis was constantly struck by the distance between himself and the psalmist behind each psalm, in reading the first four psalms today, I was struck by their immediacy. The Psalms are such personal expressions of worship, expressions that I think, to some extent, every Christian of some maturity can identify with. The Psalms really show us that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God. Many people today recoil from such a phrase as “a personal relationship with God”. However, I think there is hardly a better way to put this. That is what the various psalmists live out before our eyes in their various expressions of prayer. Yes, sometimes God seems distant, but the only reason he seems distant at times is that at other times the psalmist has known God’s closeness.
This is not to say that there are not some things in the Psalms that Christians today have a hard time identifying with. We encounter one of these aspects in the very first psalm. The idea of delighting in the law of the Lord seems alien to most of us. Delighting in God’s mercy, yes, but in his law, how can that be? 
Lewis reminds us that we must consider the situation of the ancient Jews, living in the midst of a hostile culture, with people all around them worshiping strange gods—even gods who called upon their worshippers to sacrifice their children in the fire. It is in such a context that the ancient Jews found God’s law to be a delight, a refreshment. Meditating on God’s law was for the ancient Jew like coming out of the heat and humidity of a 100 degree summer afternoon into a climate-controlled room that is cool and comfortable--an oasis. To use the psalmists own image: when we delight in the law of the Lord we are like trees planted by streams of water, soaking up the refreshing nourishment of God’s word. He satisfies our spiritual thirst.
Psalm 2 is of course one full of meaning for Christians. In its original context, the Lord’s anointed would have referred to the King of Israel, or perhaps of Judah in particular. However, it is natural that the first Christians would have seen a reference in this psalm to our Lord. Indeed, it seemed to the early Christians that the nations were conspiring against the Lord and his anointed one, Jesus, by putting the latter to death on a cross. Yet, this was not the end of the story. Thus, the psalmist instructs that all the rulers of the earth, in fact all people, can best find happiness by taking refuge in the Lord.
Psalm 3, like many of the Psalms of David, is one that I think most Christians can personally relate to at one time or another. It is not hard to take this psalm as our own prayer when we are feeling embattled, and who does not have this feeling at some time in his or her life? What a great comfort it is to be able to lie down and sleep and rise again because the Lord sustains us, the same Lord who sustained David.
Psalm 4 expresses something we have seen already in the book of Job. One of the greatest desires of the ancients was simply to be heard by God. To be heard by God, whatever God’s answer may be, means that we are not alone. “Answer me when I call, O God of my right! ... Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer…. the Lord hears when I call to him.”
Of course, the best thing we can do with the Psalms is not merely to think or talk about what they mean, but to take them up as our own prayers, or even as our own songs to the Lord. I hope that as we work our way through the psalms each day that you will take some time to do just that….


Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.

Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....

Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....

C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday ( got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…

A Christmas Psalm

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
"You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms,
Chapter XII, paragraphs 4 & 5:

"We find in our Prayer Books that Psalm 110 is one of those appointed for Christmas Day. We may at first be surprised by this. There is nothing in it about peace and good-will, nothing remotely sugg…