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Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 76pp.Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 76pp.

          This little book, which is an abridged version of Brueggemann's longer volume The Message of the Psalms (1984), explains why the "strange literature" of the Psalms has had such an abiding influence on Christians down through the centuries. In particular, Brueggemann shows how and why the "psalms of negativity," largely neglected by believers because they sound so harsh and are thus embarrassing, remain so relevant to the personal, pastoral, and public dimensions of Christian life today. He does not treat all the Psalms, or even most of them, but instead offers a threefold scheme to understand the theological trajectory of these powerful poems—psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of new orientation.

           In my own experience I agree wholeheartedly with Brueggemann when he writes that today "much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness...But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience." The "psalms of negativity" are thus profoundly subversive because they help us to embrace what we try so very hard to deny, that is, the darkness, self-deception, and overall disorientation that characterizes much of life. Our culture prizes success and control, and even does not like surprises. But the Psalms, says Brueggemann, point us to a twofold movement of faith. First, we move from a settled orientation to a season of disorientation. Then, we move on to a new orientation that comes to us as a surprise gift of God's grace. Of course, this cycle continues and repeats itself throughout life. The "stunning fact," writes Brueggemann, "is that Israel does not purge this unrestrained speech but regards it as genuinely faithful communication" with God. That should be no less true today than three millennia ago when these poem-prayers were first written. Far from a literature that we should shun or explain away, these psalms offer to us a unique "healing candor."

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