Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Plug for the Psalms

When I was young (22 or so) I was determined to read the Bible through, front to back, beginning with Genesis. Needless to say, things get tedious when Moses is receiving instructions from God atop the mountain regarding how to build the tabernacle. To the uninitiated it's about as exciting as reading blueprints for a house.

By the time I burrowed into Leviticus, I was laboring. There was no plot at this point. Just detail upon detail. But I was stubborn. And I found a solution. An acquaintance of ours from the coffee house, Charlene, was a blind woman who happened to have the entire Bible on vinyl albums. By means of the audio version of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy I successfully navigated the Pentateuch, a name for these first five books of the Bible that have been attributed to Moses.

The narrator on those albums was Alexander Scourby, who (I just looked this up) was the voice on what was the very first audio Bible. It was produced by The American Foundation For The Blind and distributed by The American Bible Society as The Talking Bible. Scourby himself was an actor, but also a narrator on other book projects, evidently favoring the long ones because War and Peace is at least one of the books on his resume. I liked the resonance of his voice and later bought cassettes of him reading the New Testament.

I bring all this up because I've recently been listening to an audio CD of the Psalms & Proverbs. The narrator in this rendering is a fellow named Max McLean who, like Scourby, is a professional actor. McLean is best known for his performances of The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis).

This summer the pastor at our church has been doing a series of sermons on the heart of David. One way to know a man's heart is to read what he writes, and this is especially the case with David who three thousand years ago penned so many of the Psalms. It seems remarkable that people who lived so long ago could write words that are so relevant still today. It shouldn't really surprise us. They were people like us, with hopes and dreams, disappointments and grief.

For some reason, when we read familiar passages in the Bible we can sometimes fail to engage the actual writer because the book has become old hat or is cast in such a religious light that we simply do not hear what the writer is saying. If you're in that boat, and would like to get a fresh look at the Psalms, Max McLean's reading in New International Version is a treat. It's fresh and reclaims some of the profound passion and poignancy of the original prose.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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