A society without Psalms

By Andrew Roycroft - Posted at Thinking Pastorally:

When contemporary poet Edward Clarke turned 40, he set himself the task of reading through the Authorised Version of the Bible in one year – half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. The outcome of this was a project which takes the Psalms as a poetic starting point, and from them reflects on life, God, guilt, the future, and the nature of meaning. Some of the processes involved in writing, and the poems which have emerged from it, were broadcast on Radio 4, in a fascinating and discombobulating programme, part personal log, part reflection on society (it can be accessed here).

Away from the aesthetic and artistic concerns articulated in ‘Clarke’s Psalter’, there are some important points raised about the place of Scripture, and specifically of the Psalms for our wider world. As Clarke spent time in the Bible he shared that ‘one does feel enthralled to something greater’, and that while he is not a regular church goer, there was an element of spiritual catharsis in trying to think and write from the space the Scriptures provide. This, however, was no mere exercise in subjectivity, but the outcome of convictions which Clarke has developed about the 21st century and biblical literature. He states,
‘I can’t see how our culture can live without a holy book…by bringing my work back to the Bible I feel that I’m planting it in this necessary soil, the eternal great I AM. Without that book we don’t have a future, and without art’s completion of that book, we do not have a fructifying relationship with it.’
This is an astonishing and compelling statement, and one which those who affirm the inspiration of Scripture need to take seriously – the loss of biblical literacy is not merely an issue for the church and for our proclamation of the gospel, but is a felt absence by our world, a void which our culture must sense and will try to fill.