When kids become adults and move out, they often leave treasures behind. I tend to claim them as my own at that point. Seems fair.

One lovely book left behind is Paula Greenberg's The Complete Psalms: The book of prayer songs in a new translation.

I love so many things about Greenberg's translation of the gorgeous Hebrew poetry.

  1. Did I say it was gorgeous?
  2. You don't need to be religious to love the psalms.
  3. New takes on the familiar jar me into paying attention.

Let's start with #1. The writing is gorgeous.

Greenberg is a poet and she captures the poetic heart of the psalms. The writing sings, the words vibrate with emotion, the poems flow. Reading them aloud is a spiritual practice in and of itself.

Greenberg says: "My central motivation in this translation was the impulse of shiru l'Adonai shir chadash, the imperative to sing to God a new song."

And sing she does ...

Here are just a few samples:

Psalm 13

Until when, God? Will you forget me continually?

How long will you hide from me the kindness of your face? How long can I hold back the proof in my chest?

My heart groans by daylight.

Psalm 17

I called out to you because you answer me, God.

Lean down your ear toward me; listen to my speaking.

Make your kindnesses distinct so I can see them.

Save those who seek your refuge by lifting your right arm.

Guard over me the way an iris keeps watch over an eye. Under the shadow of your wings, give me shelter.

#2 - The psalms are for all of us, not just the religious.

Again, Greenberg is clear:

"The Psalms are essentially about faith, but not as faith is often imagined ... One need not even be overtly religious to be moved by their poetry and their honest confrontation with the suffering of existence."

Because she works to let the psalms speak for themselves, rather than tidying them up so as to fit into a set of preconceived doctrinal boundaries, the language feels more wild, more primitive, more fitting to the lived experience of most of us. I happen to think it feels more authentic. I know for certain the ancients did not write in King James English!

Any of us could pick up Greenberg's translation and find ourselves in the words, the pleas, the heartfelt cries of joy and agony.

#3 - These new translations, rather than causing me to say "yada yada yada" in my head because I know what's coming, startle me awake.

Instead of skimming psalms I have committed to memory, I find myself anticipating the next stanza, and then the next.

This freshness has revived my prayer life, which after decades in professional ministry, is no small task.

I will close with these excerpts from Greenberg's translation of Psalm 27.

Listen, God, to my voice when I call out. With compassion, answer my need ...

You have always been my help.

Don't tear me out by the roots; don't abandon me --

for you are the one I count on for help ...

Don't give me over to the breath of my fears [I have prayed this one line more than I can count]

Keep up your hope in God. Strengthen your heart and sturdy it; keep up your hope in God.

Whether you have read the psalms your entire life, or simply want to try to read them for the first time, you cannot go wrong with one of my all-time favorite books.

Buy it for yourself, or better yet, buy it for one of your kids and maybe, one day, they will leave it behind for you.