Column: From Heavenly Harmony
by Ken Myers
The psalms, C. S. Lewis reminds us, are poems, "and poems intended to be sung: not doctrinal treatises, nor even sermons." Since they are lyrics, the psalms, Lewis insists, are characterized by "all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry." We must always resist the temptation to reduce our reading of a psalm to a set of neatly contained bullet points, since the perception of meaning in poetry always requires our imaginative participation in the text. And singing usually helps.
We don't have access to the music originally used to sing the psalms, but each era in the Church's life has cultivated musical forms that strive to convey the existential point of view sustained in these sacred poems, which artfully commingle frustration, hope, sorrow, and praise. When the psalms are set to music, additional layers of formality are necessarily introduced, along with new dimensions for making emotional connections. The results are sometimes profound.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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