Saturday, July 20, 2013

Five easy steps for writing your own psalm

Where are you, God?

How long, O Lord?

O God, why have you rejected us forever?

In this trying season of my life (I am tempted to call it The Year of Nothing Good), I find myself asking God not so much where He is, but what is He doing. I feel like Pi in the movie, The Life of Pi. "What do you want from me?"

When I open my Bible for some comfort and guidance, I turn to the Psalms. I see that many of the psalms are a deep cry to God. There are not at all trite. The psalmist is in clear agony, even danger. He doesn't understand what is happening or why. He fears. He groans. He weeps. His tears are his food day and night. Even so, he looks to God, the creator of heaven and earth. He knows where his help comes from. He knows that God is close to the brokenhearted. He may not "feel" God at all. In fact, often, he doesn't. The psalmist knows he can be honest with his Lord, authentic; he has no time for pretending; he lets his raw guts show.

Writing through pain is healing. That has been proven and that's why support groups and psychiatric hospitals use writing as a way to connect to our feelings. When my son Daniel was in the hospital for cancer treatments, I wrote in a journal about what he was going through and about my feelings. When he died at the age of four, I let my agony gush over the pages. Writing provided therapy. It released the bottled-up fear, sorrow, questions and doubts onto pages that were able to contain them all and hold them safely. A journal is a safe place and when we are in the seas of anguish, it can be just what we need for respite.

I discovered the value of writing my own psalms. I found both freedom and clarity in putting my own heart onto paper in the form of a psalm. Digging into the psalms provides an excellent way to be stirred by language, emotion, imagery, and God's faithfulness and wonder. By using the templates of the psalms from the Bible, you'll discover how composing a psalm can energize your writing, and your life.

Here are five easy and simple steps to get you going.

1. First, read the psalms. If we want to learn to write anything (romance, sci-fi, historical, etc.) we must spend time reading what other authors have written. Read a few psalms silently and then pick a few of your favorites to read aloud.

2. As you read, note the patterns, and emotions. Psalm 74 wonders if God has rejected His people forever. Psalm 77 starts with desolation but ends in remembering the mighty acts of what God has done in the past, while Psalm 150 is complete rejoicing.

3. Allow some of the lines that grab you or speak to you to be memorized. Write these lines on notecards and keep them by your place of work or stick them to the bathroom mirror. Psalm 34 verse 18 might be where you are today and like me, you might have underlined it and let it be your daily mantra: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

4. Get your journal, a notebook, or a sheet of paper and start with a string of words based on your mood. Are most of the words ones of praise, lament, or a little of both? One practice you can try is to borrow a line from a psalm and use it to jumpstart your own. Start your verse with this line from psalm 69: "Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me."

5. In my writing classes I have participants write a psalm of woe and one of beauty. Usually the one of woe is easiest to create. There is, after all, much sadness in our world and in our lives. Children had died, relationships have been torn, jobs have been lost, trust betrayed. With each sorrow, we are able to find room for it on the page. A psalm of beauty sometimes pushes us to have to dig deep. Even if you aren't feeling particularly hopeful, push yourself to be observant of the beauty around you. Start by jotting down what you are thankful for.

Although you can use single sheets of paper for your creations, I would suggest that you keep a notebook or journal of your creations. Add to them. The more you pen your own psalms, the more adept you will become.

Read them aloud; edit if needed, by changing a word or phrase. Share as you see fit. Most of all, let your psalms draw you closer to a God who loves you.

~ Alice's next three-week online Writing the Psalms workshop starts August 5. Read more about what this course offers at her website.

Broken Psalms: Expressions of Grief and Loss is a writing workshop held in Forest City, NC (Rutherfordton County) on August 17th. Join the day! Read more here.

Alice's new devotional is filled with the psalms. See what others are saying about Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache (Leafwood Publishers 2013) here.

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