Saturday, June 26, 2010

on the psalms, again

For nearly ten years now I have been intrigued by the social aspects of individual life, or—in other words—the way the world outside us becomes the world inside us. Think, for example, of the kinds of dreams you have: what they're like, what happens in them, how they make sense until you wake up and realize they don't make any sense at all. Dreams may be the most private aspect of our lives (we never dream with other people!), and yet we all seem to have fairly similar dreams. Even more importantly, we all understand the people around us when they describe completely nonsensical dreams. This is because our private worlds—who we are inside, apart from all of our relationships with others—are formed and shaped by the same (or at least heavily overlapping) social worlds. I would suspect that the understandability of our very weird dreams begins to break down cross-culturally; if a person from sub-Saharan Africa or pre-Renaissance Europe were to describe their strangest dreams to us, we would have a harder time making "sense" of them.

This sense of the outside-world-in finds marvelous expression at the end of Ron Heine's discussion of the Psalms. Heine writes:
We can also learn from the fathers that even if we must pray the psalms in private, we still pray them in community. When I pray the psalms my voice blends in praise, petition, and confession with that of the whole people of God, whether my contemporaries or my predecessors in faith, who have lifted and who continue to lift up these prayers to God. This solidarity with the whole church in prayer includes even Christ himself, the head of the church. In this communal sense all the words of the psalms become my prayer even if I am not at the moment experiencing the joys or sufferings they express. I can lift up even the words of Psalm 22:1, which Jesus prayed on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" for I am one with the whole body of Christ, and where "one member suffers all suffer together." My prayer is one with those in seemingly God-forsaken situations who cry out for deliverance but none comes, even as Jesus cried out for deliverance in Gethsemane, when none was forthcoming.1

Prayer in private is nevertheless prayer in community. The point of my doctoral thesis was similar: Memory in private is memory in community.2 Or even more simply, Memory is community—community in the present with the past. "So it is when people think that they are alone, face to face with themselves, other people appear and with them the groups of which they are members."3

1 Ronald E. Heine, Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought (Evangelical Ressourcement; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 174.
2 Rafael Rodríguez, Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance, and Text (European Studies on Christian Origins; London and New York: T&T Clark, 2010).
3 Maurice Halbwachs, The Social Frameworks of Memory (L. A. Coser, ed. and trans.; Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 49.

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