The psalms are good. A bit simplistic at times. A bit vengeful at times. The world does not exist exactly the way the psalms present it. But it’s full of genuine emotions, familiar phrases, provoking images, and a bit of cheese. It’s comfort food. The psalms work as the main course or as a side. They’re nutritious, especially when paired with good theology and spiced with a sermon series or study. But they aren’t the most nutritious food. And they’re not something you should eat every day, or that you’d really want to eat daily, no matter what your six-year-old self might have professed.
I recently finished reading all 150 psalms, one per day, in order, for 150 days. (Okay, I might not have read every single day, but I stayed consistent and didn’t skip ahead. And I admit to breaking up Psalm 119 over several days. So let’s say it took me 170 days.) It was wonderful. It’d been so long since I’d delved into that book. At times I used resources to aid my reading. At times I paired my daily psalm with other spiritual disciplines. At times, I just read and asked questions of God. For two months or so, I wrote down a single verse every day which confused me and I prayed and meditated on it for the rest of the day.
The book of Psalms is great for establishing discipline. Some parts are hard to understand, but the predominant emotions tend to be pretty obvious and relatable. Some verses are familiar to churchgoers because of songs, hymns, and sheer saturation in church culture. Few psalms are long. Some are downright diminutive.
In high school and my first year or so of college, I read a chapter in Proverbs and a chapter in Psalms every day. And I learned a lot from them. But I kept to this routine for something like five years. I did little reading in other areas of the Bible unless it was part of a formal study or class I had joined. When I felt I needed a challenge, I read more psalms each day. I read the first chapter of Proverbs on the first day of the month, the second chapter on the second, and so on until the last day of the month. If it was the 31st, I would be reading the last chapter of the book. If it was the 28th or 30th, I read all the remaining chapters at once.
I felt like I was ingesting regular, good nutrition, but my leaves were browning in other areas. Not every part of me was thriving. Eventually I learned that even staples can grow stale. Anything can if you eat it every day. Worse still, I had grown so familiar with the verses that I no longer knew how to let them reach me. I felt bored and boring. I haven’t been back to either book in a disciplined way since then.
In the fall, feeling spiritually drained but needing food so I could continue to minister to others, I went back to my old comfort book of the Psalms. I fell in and out of love several times, but I maintained the discipline of daily reading and was back in love with the book as I worked through the final chapters. And once I was done, I felt sad. Adrift. A lost. Where should I go next? I reread a couple of favorite psalms as the month of May approached. On May 1, I read Proverbs 1.
Proverbs, I’ve decided, is like a robust Lucky Charms—sort of like if Honey Nut Cheerios came with marshmallows. The cereal is good. It’s nourishing. But the marshmallows are why you eat it. Sometimes you get a piece of cereal that you know isn’t a marshmallow, but it’s so covered in sugary goodness that you can almost believe it’s one of the pre-shaped gems. You see new value in it. And yet, the more Lucky Charms you eat, the less appealing the cereal tastes. After a while, even when you do get a spoonful with a marshmallow, you’re disappointed by how stale it’s grown. Especially after you’ve had Job and Ecclesiastes, the book’s more complex cousins, it’s hard to feel satisfied with Proverbs.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been praying about what I’ll read next. I’ve kept writing down a verse a day, mostly to help me stay invested and focused as I read.
I’m chosing Isaiah. It’s a long book, which doesn’t particularly appeal to me in this year of transitions, but it’s also one I don’t ever remember reading all the way through. And maybe those 66 chapters will be good for me, will tug me through these busy next few months and provide consistency when my circumstances do not.
I can’t know for sure, of course, what food matches Isaiah. However, when think of the book and its passages that I’m familiar with, I think of a mousse or a pudding. Something seamless that flows and fills. Maybe a huge bowl of yogurt threaded through with bites of fruit. Something half-secret and surprisingly nourishing.
In 66-70 days, I hope I’ll be as in love with the book as I was with Psalms at the end of April.
[If you’re interested in some bacon for your mac and cheese, I highly recommend Sessions with Psalms. Disclaimer: I work for the company that published this study, and I got to work on it during the editorial process. It’s still the best study of Psalms that I’ve ever read.]