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Prayer and poetry?

This week saw the commencement of a new prayer initiative for those connected to RM. We’d love to gather around prayer together every first Tuesday in the month on Zoom, as a way to compliment the regional Rural Mission Hubs but also to develop new connections and relationships, and to strengthen old ones. We began humbly with just three of us (Jesus spoke about a few people gathering in his name. He said He’d be present among us) in the ‘Zoom Room’.

As new Christians, we’re told that prayer is simply talking to God. While that may be true in some ways and a really good place to begin our journey, prayer is a vast and spacious space with much to explore. Through these monthly sessions, we hope to discover more about prayer together, as we learn from each other about different forms of prayer and how each of us engage with God and express ourselves in prayer.

This week, after starting with a simple breath prayer, we cast our gaze to probably the oldest prayer book we regularly use…..the Psalms.

The Bible is a collection of many books, in many styles, that tell one unified story. They all communicate in different ways. We must therefore be intentional about paying attention to what we’re picking up to read, to what style of literature we have opened.

The Bible can be separated into three main categories of literature:

  • Narrative/story - which makes up 43% of scripture,

  • Poetry - which makes up 33% of scripture,

  • Prose/discourse - which makes up 24% of scripture.

Narrative/story is a universal form of communication. Story helps us makes sense of the world around us. We talk in story form. Ask someone how their day was and they tell you the ‘story’ of their day. Story is used to help us understand lofty ideas and concepts, such as Jesus’ use of parables to talk about the Kingdom. The Bible uses stories of different characters to help us understand God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, humanity and our place in the ‘larger story’.

Poetry makes up 1/3 of scripture! Poetry can be further sub-divided into Psalms and songs, Wisdom poetry that is reflective, and the prophets, who write passionate resistance poetry.

The poets, psalmists and prophets help us see the world a little differently. They are charged with evoking our emotions and expanding our imaginations. If there is a well-worn path we travel on (whether good or bad), the poets call us off the familiar, safe places where everything makes sense, and the lead us off-piste to explore new territory.

Prose/discourse would be speeches, letters, essays and anything where information is presented to form, encourage and teach logical, rational thinking and the ways of God. This would be the Law, some Wisdom literature and the Epistles.

Biblical Poetry

The book of Psalms are thought to have been written over a thousand year period, with King David being responsible for 73 of them. Psalm 137 is considered to be the newest Psalm, written when the Hebrew people were in exile - “Beside the rivers of Babylon we stay and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.” At this time, with Hebrew theology of God’s presence being centred around the temple, it was catastrophic for them to experience its destruction.

And so, this collection of songs, poems and laments became what Tim Mackie from The Bible Project* calls a ‘Literary Temple’. This prayer book for exiles became a place to enter and encounter God. And this literary temple is designed for all generations, including us, to read and re-read, for reflection, for prayer and for encounter.

Like all good poetry, it takes us off well-worn paths that we like to stick to, leading us off-piste into the depths of human experience and our own soul, only if we’ll allow the text to read us as we read it.

Prompt. At the first session on Tuesday, we read Psalm 46 together to see where our reflections and imaginations went. I’d like to encourage you now to do the same.

So, pause reading this now and grab you Bible and a journal.

Read Psalm 46 through slowly.

Which line or verse stood out for you? Perhaps it was a metaphor or a theme? How was the Psalmist leading you off the well-worn path of your own prayers?

Read it through again, pausing if necessary.

Linger here for a short while.

Where is the invitation to encounter God here and now through the text?

You may find it helpful to journal your thoughts.

Alternatively, you could also take a moment to craft a short prayer/psalm of your own based on the word, metaphor or theme that you lingered on. This could just simply be one or two lines.

As an example, I lingered on the idea of rivers and how they appear many times through the Biblical narrative and they always produce life, reflection and blessing for those near to them. My short prayer was as follows:

Lord, immerse me in Your River of Life,

May Your living water cause your Kingdom

To Flourish in me. Amen.

In closing. Biblical poetry is a vast and rich landscape for us to delve into. I pray that, as you read and reflect on the texts, your ‘holy imagination’ is stirred and you begin to swim deeply in the River of Life, the One who inspired such poets, prophets and dreamers to craft these words.

Jon Timms

Director: Scotland and Northern England

The next RM Zoom prayer meeting will be on 2nd April at 10am at this link.

*I find the a very helpful resource for teaching, podcasts and animated short films. My church community, Discovery Church Dunbar, have recently been looking at Biblical poetry and found their content on reading the literary styles of Bible to be a rich source of teaching. Check it out.


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