Life is complicated, so we need to learn to pray complicatedly. The Book of Psalms helps us do that because it touches on all the conditions of life — high, low and in-between. As Denise Dombkowski Hopkins writes, “A journey through the Psalms is a journey of the life of faith.”
David O. Taylor’s Open and Unafraid is a guidebook for that journey. Neither an introduction to nor a commentary on the Psalter, it focuses on “the formative power of the psalms, for both individual and communities.” It does this by exploring many of Psalms’ recurring themes.
The first, honesty, sets the tone for those that follow. “What the psalms offer us is a powerful aid to un-hide,” Taylor writes: “to stand honestly before God without fear, to face one another vulnerably without shame, and to encounter life in the world without any of the secrets that would demean and distort our humanity.”
Psalms’ honesty shows up in its prayers about sadness, anger and joy. When the psalmists imprecate their enemies and demand justice, when they worry about death and hope for life, when they consider the nations or reflect on Creation, they model how we can do the same.
Most importantly, when read through the eyes of Christian faith, Psalms points us to Jesus. “The psalms teach us how to pray as Jesus himself prayed,” Taylor explains. But also, “to pray with Jesus in the psalms is to pray with the one who embodies our prayers.” Psalms is both Jesus’ prayer book, we might say, and a prayer book about Jesus.
For centuries, the Church recognized this and used the Psalter as its own prayer book. Many Christian traditions continue to do so. Unfortunately, American evangelicals and Pentecostals have not adopted this practice, perhaps due to concerns about rote prayers, questions about Christian use of the Old Testament, or worries that some laments and all imprecations are inappropriate on believers’ lips.
Open and Unafraid shows both why such concerns are misplaced and how Christians can make use of the Psalter today. Indeed, according to the New Testament, praying the Psalms is a Pentecostal activity. Ephesians 5:18–19 tells us to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.”
May the Spirit who inspired Psalms inspire us to pray its prayers!
David O. Taylor, Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2020).
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P.P.S. This short review appears in the May-June 2020 issue of Influence magazine and is posted here with permission.