Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends (Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics #1), Carmen Joy Imes. Wichita, KS: TUMI Press, 2021.
Summary: A collection of readings for all the Psalms drawn from the writings of Augustine and other classic spiritual writers from Origen to Calvin.
This is the first of the Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics series to be released. The Sacred Roots Project, in cooperation with The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) and inspired by the brief but effective ministry of Samuel Morris, a Taylor University student, believes “fresh readings of Christian spiritual classics can lead Christian leaders into a deeper engagement with the God revealed in Scripture and into deeper relationships with one another” (p. 331). The larger dream is to equip a million Christian workers to serve the global poor and this series is driven by the premise that “leaders are readers.”
The bulk of the book is taken up with reflections on each Psalm by Augustine or another classic spiritual writer, with Augustine in the predominance. Each of the reflections are 1-2 pages in length except for a few in verse that may be up to 3-4 pages. Readers are encouraged to read the Psalm in their Bible, then the reflection, and then re-read the Psalm The readings are organized into eight chapters for groups going through this together, which means two or three readings over the day, sometimes leaving one with “make up” days. At the end of each chapter, five discussion questions are offered that concern Habitat, Head, Heart, Hand, and Habits according to an explanation in the resource section.
The readings usually focus in on a verse or several verses from the Psalm. Augustine and Calvin, it seemed to me stayed closest to the text. Mary Sidney Herbert’s verses offered paraphrases of the text, often accompanied with notes on archaisms and what they mean. Others often began with the text and brought in other insights from scripture and the spiritual life. One theme developed in many of the readings is epitomized in John Calvin’s observation on Psalm 4: “David testifies that although he may lack all other good things, the fatherly love of God is sufficient to compensate for the loss of them all.” Throughout we are reminded that God’s most precious gift to us is the gift of God’s self. Caesarius of Arles reminds us from Psalm 41 that “Confession is the very beginning of restoration to health.” Reflecting on Psalm 55, Augustine proposes that “Perhaps the reason your heart is troubled is because you have forgotten him in whom you have believed.” And as the Psalms come to a close, Augustine urges us from Psalm 148 to “Praise with your whole selves: that is, do not let your tongue and your voice alone praise God, but your conscience also, your life, your deeds.”
Reading through the Psalms using this book reminded me of what a gift both the Psalms and the great figures of the church are to us. The Psalms remind us of what matters, God and his word and give us words when we have sinned, are in a great need, beset by enemies, discouraged personally or for our people, and for exultation in God. The saints in these pages testify from the Psalms to the truth of what is written. What a powerful combination.
The reader should not conclude without reading through the resource section which includes an afterword, and explanation of the purpose of this series and a variety of ways to do “Psalm work” and “Soul work including a wonderful chart on what Psalms to pray for particular purposes. Other sections give us brief biographies of Augustine and friends, place them on a timeline, show the Psalms each appear in, and provide for each Psalm, the source of the reading–many available for free online. Resources for further reading are offered as well.
My sense is that this book is well designed for the devotional and discipleship purposes for which it is intended with carefully curated readings, discussion questions for groups, and supporting resources. I might also mention that this may be a good resource for those who regularly read the Psalms as they follow a lectionary set of readings through the year (the one I follow, for example has morning and evening readings that go through the Psalms every two months). Saints through history have found that the Psalms give them language to express their longings for God and the turmoil in their souls. In this book, we get to accompany a number of them as we read the Psalms with them and each other.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.