In 1940, Dietrich Bonhoeffer published a book called The Prayerbook of the Bible. It was a short book that described how Christians can and should use the Psalms to direct their prayer life. Importantly, though, he taught that individuals should pray the Psalms communally. The idea, in brief, is that the Psalms are filled with prayers of lament and prayers for healing and prayers for vengeance and prayers of praise (among many other things); but, how do we pray these things if we are not currently experiencing hunger or lament or pain or praise? Should we just skip over those particular Psalms and pray only the Psalms that speak to our current experience? By no means, says Bonhoeffer.
Instead, he offers a perspective on the Psalms which I have found extremely helpful in my own (prayer) life. In regard to Psalms of suffering, he writes “No single human being can pray the psalms of lamentation out of his or her own experience. Spread out before us here is the anguish of the entire Christian community throughout all time.” You see what he did there? He asserts that we pray the Psalms even if they seem not to apply to us in the moment because we know that they apply to someone in the Christian community in that moment.
This I find helpful as I think about the theme of world hunger for the season of Lent this year. I am not a person who experiences chronic hunger. (In fact, I admit that I often experience quite the opposite!) But by praying the Psalms, I can lift up my prayers on behalf of those who are experiencing hunger or need – and the Psalms, indeed, have a lot to offer in that regard. So, in addition to a monetary collection for ELCA World Hunger that we are offering this year (more on that in the Social Ministry article this month), I am also going to be adding daily prayer of Psalms to my routine for the season of Lent. I invite you to join me in this discipline as well.
“Let my prayer rise up as incense before you, O Lord. The lifting up of my hands as an offering to you.”