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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 61, 2013

IRENE NOWELL, Pleading, Cursing, Praising: Conversing with God through the Psalms (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013). Pp. x + 94. Paperback. US$12.95.

This small paperback invites the reader into an encounter with the psalms, all of them. It does this through a certain focus on pleading, cursing and praising. The nine chapters are necessarily brief and address particular psalms as they open up the deep questions related to praying the psalms.

The first chapter is entitled ‘Begin at the Beginning: ‘If you would be happy’” and it examines the role of Psalm 1 at the beginning of the psalter. She indicates the importance of listening as one prays the psalms; listening to the word of God, to Jesus, to self, to neighbour and the whole created order.

Chapter Two is entitled Telling Our Story. It focuses on the historical psalms and the importance of retelling the foundational stories and including both in-dividual and community stories of today.

Chapter Three is entitled Crying out Our Pain. As the title suggests it concentrates on lament psalms, especially those of the afflicted. It explores the advantages of giving expression to our pain.

Chapter Four is related to Chapter Three and deals with Enemies. Nowell explores the meaning of the curses aimed at enemies and the Christian discomfort with these. She reminds us that biblical prayer is not always nice. These psalms usually leave the ‘execution’ of the curses to God and Nowell reminds us that Jonah teaches us that this God is gracious, merciful and slow to anger. She speaks of her conviction that refusing to pray the laments is neglect of the voice of the poor and voiceless. She also suggests that praying the laments brings the pray-er into a deeper relationship with God.

Chapters Five and Six concentrate on psalms of thanksgiving. They include a general look at thanksgiving psalms and an examination of the acrostic Psalm 34. Nowell describes several examples of the initial rush of thanksgiving when a calamity is averted. This heightened sense of gratitude remains elusive and yet as the threat is remembered the sense of gratitude returns. She points out the change in several thanksgiving psalms from singular to plural. This change from singular to plural gives expression to the need of an individual to share the sense of thankfulness; it is difficult to contain deep gratitude, it requires expression.

Chapter Seven is about trusting God and the conviction that God will protect and deliver the lamenter. Chapter Eight then focuses on Psalms 93–100 which celebrate “God is King.” She explores the scholarly concern to understand the psalms within their literary context and taking Pss 93–100 describes the weather changes which these successive psalms depict as the Feast of Succoth approaches. Chapter Nine ends, as does the psalter, with a crescendo of praise.

The book includes a page on which the various classifications are listed and there follows a brief bibliography.

These chapters are filled with the experience and wisdom of a regular pray-er of the psalms. They are also the product of a scholar who can distil her learnings so that they speak to any and every reader. Each chapter concludes with an invitation to ponder the chapter in light of the reader’s experience and a prayer. The reflections are quite Christ-centred and seldom draw on Jewish background or interpretation.

This book will appeal to many who have avoided the psalms because they are too violent or too angry or too optimistic or too …. It affirms the place of all the psalms in our communal and individual prayer life and in our pondering of the mysteries of life today. It is to be recommended to all who wish to open up the psalter and hear what it offers their everyday life. Nowell assures the reader that daily praying of the psalms will bring about the promise of Psalm 1: “Happy will you be …”

Review by
Yarra Theological Union
MCD University, Melbourne