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Reviews: Tumbling Sky and Songs of the Spirit

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Posted by Dan Young, 29 May 2020

Dan Young reviews two very different devotional books based on the psalms.

TUMBLING SKY: Psalms Devotions For Weary Souls
Matt Searles

SONGS OF THE SPIRIT: A Psalm A Day For Lent And Easter
Megan Daffern  

These two very different devotional books are both based on a selection of psalms.

I know Matt Searles, and very much enjoyed the album of songs he also produced with the same title as his book. Most of the psalms were songs originally; and some of them were composed by or for people who felt that the sky was tumbling down on them.

Matt’s book begins with Psalm 30, verse 5b: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” This was evidently a lifeline for Matt during a time of bereavement and depression but it reminds us all that we may well experience weeping at various points in our lives. The book doesn’t minimise the prolonged suffering that Christians may face but it sets our suffering in the context of the joy that will come for those who belong to the crucified and risen Saviour.

Matt does justice also to the context of the psalms he works through, in the life of David and the history of Israel, but with a light touch and always with an eye on application to weary souls. From Psalm 143, he encourages us to be honest and direct in our praying, and he even dares to lead us gently through the desperate darkness of Psalm 88. He is always alert to the imagery used by the psalmists: in the song which is Psalm 46, the presence of God with his people is both a fortress and a river.

If there is one thing missing from this very comforting little book, it is a realisation which dawns in several psalms: namely, that sometimes our own sin contributes to our sorrows, and that repentance can be part of the healing process. But I can warmly recommend Matt’s book and music to all Christians, especially to those who currently need sensitive pastoral help and to those helping them.

The second book under review is more substantial in scope. It is intended to lead us right through Lent and so, for several weeks, I have used it as part of my own daily devotions. At the time of publication, Megan Daffern was a college chaplain in Oxford and lecturer in Old Testament. She has produced her own translation of each psalm she uses, which is quite a feat in itself. These translations have a freshness about them, although the familiarity of a known translation could also be helpful in a devotional context. She has arranged her book carefully as a journey through Lent, Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter week, and in her comments on the psalms she covers a wide range of responses. These comments are relaxed and discursive; perhaps fewer words and a clearer aim might on occasion have been more effective. Her approach to the text is respectful, if not entirely conservative, and she hasn’t ducked some of the hard questions raised by the vengeful passages. For most of the book she is sparing in the links she makes with the Lord Jesus Christ, but as Holy Week approaches those links obviously become stronger. Of particular note is her use of psalm sequences: the Psalms of Ascent lend themselves well to the events in the gospels as Jesus approaches and enters Jerusalem and the final Hallel Psalms make for a joyful celebration of Easter. I am glad to have made the journey.

Dan Young has recently retired as Associate Minister of St John’s Toft, near Knutsford.

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