Book Review: Psalms for All Seasons by John F. Craghan
by Peter Menkin 1/19/2009 / Book Reviews
Engaging and educational book that illuminates the Psalms
I am getting to know the Psalms. I have been reading the Psalms for about ten years, which isn't long as it goes. Afterall, the Psalms have been around a long time and I am just getting to them. As an effort to know and understand them, and to learn to have them as a part of my life, I have so far turned to three books. This is the third of the books I have read on the Psalms, and maybe it is just me, but the most helpful. In fact, now I will go back to the others. This book has a capacity to inspire with pleasure a growing sense of ease with the Psalms. For afterall, they are relevant to living.
Where I bought this book is important to the review. I did not buy it on Amazon.com, probably because I didn't know about it. So Amazon.com remains a good source for the work. I discovered the book at a monastery bookstore, where it was with some other titles about Psalms. In a way, it came advised as a book to read and encouraged as a title to own.
The book takes about 55 Psalms and discusses each one of them. There is the Psalm, then the commentary. Some chapters end with a quotation from the Bible, which are also discussed in a commentary manner. In each section, for the Psalms are divided into types, there is an introduction. For Wisdom Psalms the author John F. Craghan introduces the type: "Wisdom psalms emphasize the doctrine of retribution; that is, they attempt to offer a theological explanation of success and failure, reward and punishment." I find that clear writing, and for a believer a believable statement that helps matters. This is a book that helps the believer to realize God is in our lives in surprising ways. He can speak to our humanity.
For the price, $6.95 the cover of mine says, you can't go wrong. This is a book for reading in chunks. I found reading a half hour and taking a ten minute break, then going back to the book the better way to absorb what the writer has to say. I mean, here is Psalm 1, which the writer says "...is really the introduction to the entire Book of Psalms." It begins, "Happy those who do not follow/the counsel of the wicked..." There are words to live by, and you can see that the book makes one enthusiastic for the beauty and even religious meaning of these ancient Hebrew hymns.
I want to give you another example of a Psalm chosen by the book. Psalm 32 begins, "Happy the sinner whose fault is removed/whose sin is forgiven." This is one of the penitential Psalms. I like how the writer thinks that the Psalms lead to the good life. I think this is an implied meaning of the book. Of that Psalm 32, the commentary says, "The psalmist states that for the good life nothing quite matches the experience of forgiveness."
Want to know God, or something of the Almighty. Certainly for the Christian the Psalms are a path to living. Of Psalm 39 titled "The Vanity of Life" the commentary by the writer goes: ""This psalm is ultimately a study on the theology of security, a meditation on the irony of human existence in relation to the Existing One." I am interested in such things, so of course I would find this a helpful look at reading a psalm. By the way, he categorizes this psalm as one of lament. The psalms help with human lament, and they are a deep source of getting to know oneself, and ones relation in the world. There is also the knowledge that others have had, for hundreds and hundreds of years, a kinship of similar experience and emotion. There is something deep in this itself.
There is another book like this one, or more accurately, that this book is like. The author of "Psalms for All Seasons" gives thanks to the author of it, and says that he patterned his book by it. The book is "Praying the Psalms" by Brueggemann. I have read this book, and it is wonderful. So the two books together give a reader a good chance at learning about and living with the psalms.
This title by associate professor John F. Craghan is a mere 170 pages, not including his pages on suggested reading. In itself, a worthy thing to get to have. Like Brueggemann, Craghan says: "Brueggemann has suggested that certain types of psalms fit these different stages (of our lives)." So this book, too, in so well done a way, contributes to an understanding and liking of the psalms. There is something holy about being brought closer to sacred writing. There is something deeply spiritual in this book about the psalms that brings them to better reach for meaning in our lives. I recommend this book to anyone interested in expanding both, and who just enjoys the psalms and wants to know more about appreciating them.
--Peter Menkin, Obl Cam OSB
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.