Nan C. Merrill has done a remarkable job in her book Psalms For Praying: An Invitation To Wholeness of paraphrasing the Psalms in a way that seems very faithful to a contemplative reading using contemporary terminology.
Daily reading a chapter from the book of Psalms has been a long-standing practice for me and I have recommended too many others as a spiritual discipline. However, simply reading them literally can be quite jarring and discomforting for many who do not understand how the church fathers and mothers learned to read them analogically and contemplatively.
What’s the difference? For example in Psalm 2, whatever historical reference the author had in mind (after all they are poetry and poets love to take poetic license), it was both read as a proof of Jesus being the Messiah but also read contemplatively as describing the internal spiritual struggle everyone faces struggling with their fears and anxieties about life.
Phrases in Psalm 2 like, “kings conspire” and “nations plot in vain” were read as if references to the temptations we face that resist us in making wise choices on the basis of being beloved by God. The phrase, “You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” can be read literally as a promise that we can be violently successful against some perceived enemy or read contemplatively as a promise that we can overcome our internal spiritual conflicts (You might think about Paul’s expression of the struggle in Romans 7).
So how does the average person read the Psalms devotionally without all these mental gymnastics? Unfortunately, many get trapped into literal readings that are not consistent with how I believe Jesus and the early church read the Psalms and many just give up reading them.
Below is a side-by-side comparison of Psalm 2 in both the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and Merrill’s paraphrase. For those of us who have read the Psalms a long time there is something nostalgic about reading them from a familiar version however familiarity is often blinding to deeper meaning. My invitation is to consider buying Psalms For Praying and allow it’s wisdom language to speak deeply to your heart.