The Psalms provide for us a complete picture of life’s journey before God. Walter Brueggemann sees three “phases” in the journey of life. Brueggemann calls these three phases orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. The important word for Brueggemann was disorientation, as I think both “orientation” and “new orientation” are bland descriptions for what we are actually going through.
What Brueggemann did do for us was to map the Psalms along something other than “formal” grounds. It is traditional to see Psalms of lament, and hymns, and confession, etc.. Brueggemann, instead of looking at the form, looked at the substance and condition and so related each Psalm to the journey through life — with its ups and downs.
I see the same three “seasons of life,” but I prefer to use other terms. I think we should call them Shalom, Confusion, and the Return of Shalom. But I see another element to these that can add a foundation to the seasons of life: Hope.
Each of us starts our journey with the general belief that God’s Kingdom will someday be established (our hope), and we sometimes find ourselves in Shalom, and sometimes in utter confusion — when bad things happen and the bad is just not right or just or good, and then sometimes we find that Shalom comes back. All the Psalms fit into one of these seasons of life. But, we would never turn to pray if we didn’t think there was a condition of life that was right, a Kingdom condition. We pray because ultimately we believe God wants to redeem the world in which we live. Only because we sense this do we know Shalom, Confusion, and the Return of Shalom after Confusion.
If we find ourselves in confusion, we discover that the Psalms of (disorienting) confusion are appropriate; if we find ourselves in good times, we find the prayers of (orienting) Shalom to be our words. (You can see that a good exercise for each of us is to read the Psalms and mark down a category for each Psalm.)
It would be quite easy to think that Hope is really the same as the Return of Shalom, which it is for Brueggemann, but I have given its own category because I think it is both an experience and an expectation. It becomes the guiding star of all of prayer: we long for the day when God’s will is established, and that is why we turn to God — sometimes in praise because we see it all around us and sometimes in utter protest because God seems to watching instead of making it happen.
All prayer, so I believe, comes from one basic belief: hope that God will establish the Kingdom. Psalm 47 is a good example.
“Clap your hands, all you peoples!
shout to God with louds songs of joy.
For Yahweh, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.”
Here is both an experience of what has just happened, and yet at the same time the very hope that sustained Israel. This prayer, then, is the rock-bottom of why we even pray. Someday, we are taught to pray, God will be gloriously enthroned and will be eternally King.
Jesus taught us to pray about this in these words: “May your kingdom come.”