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SIDIC Periodical XXVIII - 1995/1
The Psalms: Human Experience of Union with God (Pages 17)

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Foreword to the Psalms
Andre Chouraqui


We are born with this book at the core of our being - a small book of 150 poems - 150 poems spanning the gap between death and life - 150 poems, mirroring our rebellions and our fidelities, our agonies and our resurrections. It is more than a book; it is a living speaking being, speaking to you while it suffers, groans, dies, rises again and sings on the threshold of eternity.

It hides a mystery so that all ages will never fail to recapture its song, to purify themselves in its waters, to interrogate each one of its verses, each word of its ancient prayer, as if its rhythms marked the heart-beat of the universe, for the universe has always recognised itself in this book. Because it tells everybody's story it has become everybody's book, tireless and piercing herald of God's word to all the peoples of the world. It infiltrates all things... It is part of every festival, every bereavement in almost every nation ... The psalms can speak to everybody in every language everyday inspiring the noblest renunciations, the most fruitful acts of courage... convents and ghettos, like loving guardians, have been mysteriously united in singing, here in Latin, there in Hebrew, the song of the Shepherds of Israel... They carried this book with them in their exile. In their own flesh and blood they lived out each one of its verses. It had been committed to writing; as they read it so they lived it and the living was as necessary as the reading. It was at the same time their drama and their hope. While it crucified them it raised them up; it held the key to their mystery; they were one with it as the shadow is one with the light, as the voice with the song. It sang the promise that they were destined to fulfil...

The Psalter is the memorial of Israel's history, the book of universal liberation. Each psalm is conceived as an act, as an illustration of the drama that opens with creation, and develops throughout the exiles and the calvaries of history until it fulfils itself in the glory of the Parousia. The back-drop to this drama is the entire universe: heaven, earth, space, hell. Time meets eternity and the action unfolds itelf from the beginning to the end of the world...

Two millennia and several centuries separate us from the writers of the psalms who doubtless would not recognise the world in which we live: we still find ourselves in their songs; time has not dimmed their imagery and their message is for ever. Their demand for justice and for universality, their vision of creative order and of mankind at peace will forever express the most urgent needs of a humanity that is still tasting the blind and murderous delirium of its violent revolt.

The book is there witnessing against us on the rock of eternity to which its word calls us. To understand all its liberating power, to know to what extent it can assume humanity and answer its prayer, it should be sung perhaps in the night of exile to the ancient rhythm of the East. It should be sung in the Northern night to the piercing cry of the watchman, in the listening and silent night of the East, in the night of the desert of Judah burning with a pure flame that dances at sunset...

Slowly the soul is penetrated and nurtured by the undying soul of the singer of Israel; the brilliance that strikes it down pierces us, the light that it commands dazzles us, changing our darkness into unspeakable joy. A voice lives in us and enraptures us; it tears us away from our limitations, leads us through the walls of our prison, weds us to the radiance that is closer to us than we are to ourselves. A face shines on us, a presence fills us, and as we walk the path of true knowledge a song carries us through the night in the light of your radiance, Jerusalem...
Le Cantique des Cantiques suivi des Psaumes, traduits et présentés par André Chouraqui, Presses Universitaires de France, 1970. This extract from the Forward is published with the Author's permission.


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