In January a missions team from our church left snowy Minnesota to visit Guatemala. Once there we joined up with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and their Guatemala counterpart down “Vine and Branches.” We were there to survey their community projects and explore ways our church could learn from and partner with them.

One small community worked on a Finca (a Private Plantation). Each family was given a small house (shed) to live in, as long as they worked for the Finca. Though extremely poor; however they bought us each a cold bottle of water on the very hot day we visited. Our conversations were unanimated until we asked if their children had enough milk to drink. They exploded in laughter. Milk? None of them could ever afford milk. Milk was a luxury, far too expensive for ordinary people. So we learned about their life of poverty: They got paid every two weeks. However they needed to pay for a ride down the mountain in order to go to town to collect their paycheck. Once there, they purchased groceries for the next two weeks. Then purchased a trip back to the plantation to start the cycle over again. Once, they told us, they planted a banana tree outside their huts. It was to be a source of food. But as soon as the “boss” learned about it, he sent men with orders who chopped it down. They are now working to plant a few items on their roof for additional food.

Trapped in poverty, they did not complain. They spoke with matter of factness. This was their way of life. A routine sickness forced them to choose between helping the ill or feeding their children. But even in such a life, so full of burdens, they told us, “God is so Good, God has Mercy on us.” They hoped to build God a better church building, so thieves could not break in. They want a place to worship God.

We left them that day, after praying with them. We prayed with tears in our eyes and bleeding hearts. How could they say, “God is so good”?

I opened the bible that night to Psalm 71. “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness: turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, give the command and save me… My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long…Be not far from me O God: come quickly O my God, to help me…My lip will shout for joy when I sing praise to you- I whom you redeemed.”

I saw, I felt, and I was shown that the Psalms are still the “living” word of God today.

Tom Kiel

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A college student, I was feeling alone. I was twenty years old. And unhappy, lacking any meaning or direction. I was in college because I was expected to be in college. Living at home with my mom and sister, I’d drive to UCLA in the morning and return at night. Apart from one fellow student who talked to me over her sack lunch, everyone ignored me.

Then I took a big step. Especially for me. An on campus ecumenical group was showing a movie, followed by a discussion. I went to the event, hoping to connect with some fellow students, but I was stunned by the movie. It was dark. Negative. As soon as the lights came back on, I left. I had tried to reach out and find friends, but now I was so depressed I thought of jumping out of my car on the freeway drive to UCLA.

In that lonely place, I read Psalm 40. “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth….”

I became aware that God was offering this promise to me. It took fifteen years of reflection to see how transforming this experience really was, but that day I started on a journey, with the God who wanted me to know his love and grace.

Margaret

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The first time I remember really engaging with my faith was my junior year of high school. I was had a friend (who I was hopeful would become a girlfriend) who was cutting.
She told me. And we talked about it a ton. And I got depressed. Like really depressed.
Suddenly the God I’d grown up knowing felt really far away. And I felt broken. My life was not perfect and I knew then that brokenness was everywhere. The whole world was broken. So I opened my bible to find something that might speak to me. I found Psalm 77:

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted…

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his face again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?”

And what was this promise? To fix the world. But I didn’t see it.
Night after night I groaned with the psalmist. Until eventually… it started to click. I kept reading. Later in Psalm 77, the psalmist talks about all they years of God’s faithfulness. And I decided that if God were faithful then, he would be faithful to me too.
Things I’d always knew started becoming clearer. The world was broken, yes, but God made a promise to fix things and show us new life. I think that’s what Jesus is all about—saving us from a broken world and our own broken tendencies.
That’s my psalm story.

KJ Van Ek

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Psalm Story

A number of years ago, when I was working at a small college in Iowa, I memorized Psalm 19. I had spent two or three weeks slowly repeating the psalm to myself and letting it slowly trickle down into the depths of my heart and mind. Four years later, I was married and living in Calgary working at the University of Calgary as a Christian chaplain. One sunny afternoon in early summer, I took my road bike from the shed and heading out on a long leisurely ride along the Bow River. Slowly the trail rose over the course of a few miles and then suddenly, I found myself overlooking the most beautiful green gorge filled with deciduous trees with a gentle dancing river below. The sky above was expansive. Suddenly, the first few verses of Psalm 19 came pouring out of my memory – “the Heavens declare the glory of God! The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech!” As my legs pumped the thin piece of steel beneath me up the side of the hill, more and more of the psalm danced on my tongue – “There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard — Their voice goes out into all the earth – their words to the ends of the earth… “ Thinking back on that moment now, the most surprising part of that afternoon was that I had not read or thought about Psalm 19 since I had memorized it years before. It was just waiting there… ready at a moment’s notice to give me the words of praise that captured so perfectly what my eyes were beholding.

Sam Gutierrez

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As a new person to Granite Springs Church, Pastor Kevin and others’ memorization of scripture greatly impressed me. I decided to give this scripture memorizing a shot and memorized different passages of the Bible including Psalm 23. In the beginning it was very difficult, especially because English is my second language. However, I wrote Psalm 23 on different papers, I placed them on my refrigerator door, on my mirror, at my night table, in my purse and in my exercise bag. I read and memorized verse by verse each time I had an opportunity − such as waiting in line, walking, swimming, running on the treadmill, and before I went to sleep. Psalm 23 started healing my turbulent soul, comforting my hurting heart and quieting my chaotic mind.

The hard work of memorizing the scriptures completely paid off when I was able to recite Psalm 23 to comfort a dying friend. One night my husband received a phone call with sad news, his Boy Scout master was dying from a brain tumor and only a few days to live. It was a great shock for family and friends. We did not know what to expect when we arrived at the hospital. There were many questions in our minds. Will he be allowed to have visitors? Will he be awake? Will he recognize us? The more difficult question, what can we say to somebody who is dying?

When we arrived, our dying friend was lying in his bed restless and in deep agony. When he saw us he started to cry intensely and wanted to leave the hospital, but he was not able to stand by himself. We hugged him and tried to comfort him with kind words, but his soul was disturbed. Then I hugged him again placing my face next to his cheek and recited Psalm 23 into his ear with all my heart, “The Lord is my shepherd…” While I was quoting the psalm, he was calming down and God brought comfort to his heart. After he was calm, we were able to feed him and remembered fond times together. We left the hospital leaving him with his lovely daughter. Two days later, our dear friend went to be with his Lord and Shepherd.

Posted by Pelusa

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Dana Perry, Producer and Director of the HBO documentary “Top Ten Monks” said she had been aware of monastic tradition before her visit to Stift Heiligenkreuz Abbey. But she assumed all monks were Buddhist. She imagined the monks would “be somehow grim-faced and dour, suffering in some self-imposed way.” But, she says, “that idea could not have been farther from the truth.” They “were full of joy.” Perry was particularly impressed with the story of a monk who formerly worked as a feature writer in a Motorcycle magazine. Becoming a monk was clearly not on his “bucket list” but he felt compelled to join. And chant the psalms.

Perry’s previous documentary “Boy Interrupted” premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. And with her husband Hart Perry, she produced and directed “The Drug Years” (2006), a documentary exploration of illicit drugs and popular culture. A significantly different subject, she found monks and their life utterly compelling. She was enchanted by their sense of peace, dedication to community and hard work. She found their joy infectious and charming.

Like many contemplatives, the “Top Ten” monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz follow the “Rule of St. Benedict” (Regula Benedicti) which forms their community life around two main elements “ora et labora” (pray and work). The monastic life is a life of common prayer and common work.

The main part of their common prayer begins at 5:15 every morning with solemn and meditative singing of the Psalms. Praying the time-tested words of the psalms is their chief mission. In psalm praying they honor the liturgy; they worship God in his Church. They don’t sing, then, just for artistic reasons (though they’ve gone “Platinum” and are doing very well on the music charts), but their song is a form of prayer, meditation praise. That is why every monk studies Latin; so each can attend to the meaning of the words as they sing.

Their Liturgy is mainly the psalms, the ongoing liturgy of the Church. Visitors to their monastery are always invited to join–and many do.

To hear their Gregorian chant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=UiRpXsWlZK4
(This particular chant is about the Holy Spirit. It is the Introitus of Pentecost.)

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Dec 10

Psalm 23

When I began reading your book and found the first chapter was about Psalm 23 I was flooded with emotions. I would like to share a family story. My wonderful Mother lived to be 96 years old. Prior to her death she called me and told me that my younger brother shared with her that he did not believe in God. Mom asked me to talk to him about God. My brother and I had not been on very good terms for years and I knew I was not the one to talk to him. When my mother was dying we called in Hospice and put her hospital bed in the middle of her condo living room and the family came to say goodbye. The morning she died the sun broke through the cold December Idaho day and lit up the room. When she died my two brothers and I circled the bed, held hands and spontaneously began reciting the Lord’s Prayer, including my younger brother who didn’t believe in God. As children we had all memorized Psalm 23 and when we needed it we found it in our hearts. I know my Mother’s spirit was still in that room when we prayed and she was smiling. I thank you Mom and Dad for leading your children to Jesus and thank you Kevin for helping us understand God’s prayer book that gives us words when we don’t know how to pray.

Posted by: Julie Norman

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Dec 03

Top Ten Monks

The Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria, have been praying the psalms for 900 years. But lately their prayers have made them famous. Their CD, “Chant: Music for the Soul” (known outside the U.S. as: “Chant: Music for Paradise”) was in the top 10 for two months on Britain’s pop charts, and has sold nearly a million copies worldwide. One blogger writes that she keeps a copy in her car’s CD player to keep her “blowing up” while negotiating Los Angeles traffic).

Recently the monks were featured in an HBO documentary “Top Ten Monks.”

Its ironic that men dedicated to silence and prayer, who withdraw from the world to experience prayer and silence, get more than their share of the “fifteen minutes of fame” so many desire. But they didn’t seek fame; fame sought them.

On February 28th 2008 a London-based friend of the monastery sent an e-mail to Father Karl Wallner, who is in charge of the Abbey’s website. “Quick, Quick, Karl!” it said, and gave him a link to a notice about Universal Music’s search for Gregorian singers.

Father Karl did not take the matter seriously. He hadn’t even heard of Universal and didn’t know what it is. But the following day—the last day of the competition—he sent an apologetic e-mail to Universal with a link to the Gregorian chant samples on their Abbey’s website, www.stift-heiligenkreuz.at.

After hearing the samples and watching a clip of Heiligenkreuz on youtube the people at Universal got very excited. And the rest is best selling “Gold” and “Platinum” history. Though the monks didn’t seek their fame, they see it as the hand of God who gave them a unique opportunity to give Him glory. On their website they write, “Since the beginning was so providential we decided to carry on with the project; we have no desire to become music stars; we will remain monks.” And will keep praying the psalms.

For more on the “Top Ten Monks” and their HBO documentary watch
www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyhOf0-52_8

To hear their Gregorian chant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=UiRpXsWlZK4

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I write to express my appreciation and admiration for your book 150. I found it, while not really looking, but browsing, at the Faith Alive store. Bought it with my pastoral book allowance, and went, like the Ethiopian eunuch, on my way rejoicing.
Got “home” and started reading.

I was most pleasantly and delighfully surprised. I knew you were gifted in writing, but the way that you’ve pulled together all the historical little facts/information regarding people of faith, etc…, all of this reveals a wonderfully-working mind.

Your chapter on Psalm 130 made me think of my Father-in-law’s telling of his getting married in a Reformed-style, as part of the afternoon Sunday service at their Frisian church. Not all weddings were done that way in the Netherlands, but it was quite common. Maybe it was motivated by Dutch frugality? The preacher was there anyhow, and no licence needed. It was a public place, no fees for both the city, state or preacher?

The wedding service didn’t take all that long, but immediately after the final prayer as part of the wedding aspect, the wise and non-thinking pastor assigned the congregation to sing the words of Psalm 130, “Out of the depths……” That’s hardly a celebrative cry in the old Dutch, Genevan Psalter used in 1928.
Dad said, “I didn’t have the heart for singing it. It was elsewhere….

Posted by George Vink

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The psalms Medema sang as a church-going child never left him. One of his most treasured memories is standing nearby his grandfather in church as he sang the Genevan Psalter version of Psalm 42 with overflowing passion and unending enthusiasm.
Years after re-entering the church Medema was invited to be the featured musician at a gathering of three thousand church-going teenagers. It was the 1970’s, and the charismatic renewal movement was sweeping the church. “TV evangelists were everywhere,” he remembers, “healing everyone. So convention planners chose the theme ‘Thriving in the Spirit.’” For their logo, the planning team chose a tree with fruit on its branches.
When they asked him to write a theme song, his first thought was, “This church loves the psalms, and psalm 1 is about a tree. I’m going to take off on that.” He knew hip teenagers of the 70’s didn’t love the psalms but he wanted to tap into their roots and history. He had grown up singing psalms every week, and knew they had as well. He thought “If I can, I want to bring us back to our identity.” So he started exploring the idea of a tree. Many attendees, like him and his grandpa Medema, were of Dutch heritage and he thought, “One of the primary places such people find themselves in is winter…” Off he went, exegeting the tree. The musical result endures as “the Tree Song.” Psalm 1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlqQ_QkKqYs&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fprofesorbaker.wordpress.com%2F2011%2F06%2F27%2Ftree-song-by-ken-medema%2F&feature=player_embedded)

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