August 31, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

The whole Calvin community will be studying—and praying—the Psalms through this year's all-campus Bible study.

“Hear my prayer, oh Lord. Hear my cry,” quoth Aaron Winkle. “Why did you do this to me?”

Winkle, Calvin’s associate chaplain was thinking aloud about how the Psalms address God: “They are dialogical,” he said. “They assume that God is talking, and now people are responding.” He was also pondering the Psalms’ nature: “What I think is unique about the Psalms is they convey the full range of human experience …,” he said. “When we read the Psalms as a collection—no matter where we are or how we’ve been, we can find ourselves.”

Winkle and the rest of the staff from the chaplain’s office will be guiding groups of Calvin students, faculty and staff—and some alumni and friends of the college as well—to find themselves in the Psalms through the second-annual all-campus Bible study. The event is an attempt to re-capture the way Psalms have been used throughout church history, Winkle said. “Psalms are prayed. Psalms are sung … They are a way of communicating with God.”

Prayer themes

The study kicks off the week of Monday, September 12, and the series will explore nine Psalms (1, 2, 3, 51, 103, 23, 137, 6, 73, 150)—each devoted to a different facet of the believer’s conversation with God. All of the Psalm studies in the different on- and off-campus groups are designed to lead to prayer. Each highlighting a different prayer theme: “Praying Our Inattention,” “Praying Our Intimidation,” “Praying Our Sin,” “Praying Our Salvation,” “Praying Our Fear,” “Praying Our Hate,” “Praying Our Tears,” “Praying Our Doubt” and  “Praying Our Praise.”

Winkle hopes that studying the Psalms as prayer will expand Calvin’s prayer vocabulary, especially that of Calvin students: “With students, the language they have with Psalms is, “I praise you, I praise you, I praise you.’ ‘I thank you, I thank you, I thank you.’ There’s not a lot of ‘God, I’m sorry. I’ve made a mistake,’ Winkle said. “This is an invitation for all of us to be honest.”

Along with the scripture, the Psalms study will also use Psalms: Prayers of the Heart, a guide by Eugene Peterson. “It’s actually hard to find a good Bible study book on the Psalms, so we were delighted to find this book of Peterson’s,” said Calvin Chaplain Mary Hulst. (An added benefit to the book, she said, was that it wasn’t expensive. “It works well for students on a limited budget.”)

Organizers are hoping to repeat, and maybe even top, the success of last year’s Philippians study, which drew 1,500 participants. They’d also like to see the same variety in the study groups, which boasted every configuration of students, faculty, staff, alumni and were devoted to all kinds of affinities: foreign languages, scripture memorization, athletics, theater, nursing, psychology and even yoga.

Chant and drama

Hulst said she is seeing a lot of these groups being repeated this year, and she knows of one Psalms group dedicated to Gregorian chant. “There’s been contact from church groups, saying, ‘We want to partner with Calvin in this,’” she said. “I think it will be really exciting to see how it all unfolds.” She will be preaching on the featured Psalm every week in Chapel. “Right now, my focus is on Psalm 1,” she said. “I’ve been thinking how Psalm 1 shapes the whole canon of the Psalms.”

One new tie-in involves Calvin’s theater department, which will be performing David: A Play with Psalms, an original work co-written by Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence and Amanda Ytzen. The show spotlights the less-than-heroic episodes in David’s life, said theater chair David Leugs: “These are the stories you haven’t heard,” Leugs said. “We’re showing the fact that he was human … . It’s a piece that will be a bit edgy and, hopefully, worshipful.” The new play is a great way to connect with another college department, he said

The study organizers hope to provide more that a great campus event, Winkle said.  “We’re hoping that, through knowing scripture better, we’ll know God better.” And that desire, he said, is one that came from the community itself. “One of the things we’ve heard consistently is, ‘I want to study scripture. I want to read the Bible.’”

To join a study group, register at the Psalms Bible study website.

Aaron Winkle

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