Intro: A Project for Time of Upheaval

“Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.

Hear my cry for help...” (Psalm 5:1-2)

We are living in a time of widespread illness, ongoing racism, and deep fear and division. People throughout the world are crying out, raising their voices in protest and lament, seeking hope and solace. Our voices echo those over the millennia who have cried out in every generation, turning to their spiritual traditions for guidance and inspiration. 

Four weeks ago, the two of us, one rabbi and one minister, decided we wanted to explore the biblical Book of Psalms--a collection of beautiful, gritty, desperate, and uplifting prayer-poems--in our time. And so, we conceived PsalmSeason: An Online Encounter with the Wisdom of the Psalms 

Over the next 18 weeks (the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for life--chai), a diverse group of religious leaders, cultural critics, musicians, poets, artists, and activists will explore the Psalms, bringing their power to bear on our lives in this trying time. Like the ancient Hebrew writers, we seek to express our fear, anger, and sadness, while also giving thanks for the preciousness of life, recommitting to a better future for all. 

In turning to the Psalms, we join a great tradition of Jewish, Christian, and other seekers who viewed this time-worn text as a prism through which to explore their deepest thoughts and feelings. The ancient rabbis; Jesus of Nazareth; Johann Sebastian Bach; Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Fannie Lou Hamer; Elvis Pressley; Mother Teresa; and Bono have all engaged these evocative and existentially gripping texts in their quests for meaning and purpose.

As Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke University writes in her elegant introduction to PsalmSeason, part of what makes this ancient collection so compelling is that “the Psalms speak directly from and to the human heart.” Further, as Davis notes, “The book of 150 Psalms speaks with the most consistently personal voice in the Bible, often in the first person (‘I’ or ‘we’).” The ancient poets model for us the power of calling out to God, to ourselves, and to our communities in different--often extreme--moments of life.   

While it is true that for centuries Jews and Christians have turned to the Book of Psalms, there have been far fewer opportunities for members of these two communities and others to explore these sources together as fellow seekers. What do we share in common? Where do we differ? How might reading these texts through the lens of the “other” impact our understanding of life and our collective struggle at this time? What do we hear when listening to the black poet Drew Drake’s new lament “Searching My Rage,” which he wrote after the recent murders of George Floyd and other African Americans by police officers? What do we see when looking at Debra Band’s illuminated painting of the pastoral landscape of Psalm 23? How might the words of Nina Simone’s psalm-like song “Come Ye,” performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock, inspire us with its repeated refrain of “Come ye of hope”?  

Over the next 18 weeks, we will focus on one psalm a week, offering several different forms of interpretation. In addition, we offer several broader reflections on major themes in the Psalms or significant cultural creations inspired by these legendary texts. We will also host several live events with contributors to provide opportunities for greater interaction with them and others interested in this initiative. We are tremendously grateful to the more than 50 contributors who have lent their talents and skills to this project, particularly during such a difficult and precarious moment in human history.

We invite all those who visit the PsalmSeason platform,  to consider taking three simple actions:

1. Spend some quiet time reflecting on the biblical texts and interpretations offered on our site. What are some key insights or questions that emerge for you?

2. Share your insights and questions with at least one other person. Who might be a helpful companion in this journey? Who might benefit from such a conversation?

3. Create your own commentary on the PsalmSeason materials you explore, be it in the form of poetry, music, dance, or drama. As you do so, ask yourself how this process might help you grow as an individual and contribute more deeply to a world in dire need of healing 

Please share your thoughts on Twitter using #PsalmSeason or post in a comment on our Facebook page.

Thank you for beginning this journey with us. To paraphrase Psalm 90: may the work of our hearts and hands be blessed!  

Read our other pieces introducing you to the project and the Psalms:

Why the Psalms Now? By Ellen F. Davis

Owned By Psalms By Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O.

Complaint as a Spiritual Act By Joel Lohr & Joel Kaminsky

Teaching Psalms in Times of Upheaval By Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.
In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.