These new prayers are written in the form of "psalms" for public or private use, and are grouped under 9 headings of "the world," "work," "worship," "praise," "devotion," "community," "feelings," "festivals," and "celebration." Using some familiar words or prayers as well as ideas and images used by Christians today, these are prayers about our daily life. They can be used as a refreshing way to enliven worship, in formal as well as informal settings, or they can help an individual to widen their personal prayers. Many of them were written for specific occasions in a church, or other, meeting.
A "psalm" - like one of the psalms of David, for example - is a way of talking to God. Expressing feelings that I might not otherwise want to express in public: anger or frustration, love or passion, prayer or praise. A "psalm" is a way of saying with a group of people some of those things we like to put up on the walls of our kitchen that we don't normally say out loud, but which give us a certain confidence, or allow us a certain way of ... well, praying.
So why should King David have had all the best prayers? Perhaps we need some more psalms today in our own thought forms and in our own culture. Psalms of our life, not just from the life experience of other people who lived a couple of millennia ago. So this is an attempt to write some.
I suppose a psalm is also poetry. But I have been struck by the special nature of Hebrew poetry - written in poetic parallelism, using a particular kind of conversational tone, even questioning or complaining. It feels a bit Jewish - you can get away with saying things in a psalm that you cannot say in ordinary life or in ordinary church worship! Perhaps there are some subjects, like work, that we should be speaking to God about more than we usually do? Easiest of all, is to speak to God about the world of creation - God's creation, as we say. Especially so, in an age when we are conscious of the need to look at it in a new way, for conservation rather than for exploitation. A psalm can also be a "political" statement. Indeed, a psalm is about life, and the things that are important for us - including the created world, our work and places we know.
Prayers at meetings can often be improved with a little participation, or even some new words. These psalms are written so they can be said all together, or with the group divided into two, saying a verse each, or with a leader saying (for example) the first half of a verse, and everyone responding with the second half. They are not just for church or for worship, of course, but for any gathering.
One of the intriguing things about the Psalms of David is that so many of them are religious games with words. Here are some in English, rather than in Hebrew. The "ABC" in a single psalm tells the story of Christianity in a minute compass (similar to Psalm 105, for example) - or in the initial letters of 26 separate 6-verse psalms about prayer (as in Psalm 119). Each section of this can be used by itself, with its separate theme, besides that of prayer, which may be relevant to a topic for discussion. The very English game of alliteration, used in the Medieval Mystery Plays, I have tried in the "Te Deum" and there is much use of "choruses" (as in "Give thanks to God") so others can join in, even without the text. Several take a very typical theme from the Psalms of David - waiting (as, for example, "Expectans, expectavi" in Psalm 40 translated "I waited patiently..." or "Why do the nations..." in Psalm of Peace, as in Psalm 2).
The point of publishing these attempts to write psalms for today is so that others might do the same, and so that these can be used. I encourage you, therefore, to use the psalms here, and print them, if you wish. I should be pleased if you are able to acknowledge their source, too. And, if you find them useful or have any comments about how they work, please do leave a message in the guestbook.
After a long battle against cancer, sustained by his faith and irrepressible good humour, John Hammersley died on November 1st 2004 in the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford, UK. At John's suggestion, his "Psalm of Courage" was read at his funeral. An obituary was published in the Church Times on 19 November 2004