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New Harmony: Find peace, comfort in the Psalms

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

One of the most poignant moments in Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's new book about the Psalms comes on page 194 where he describes Jesus Christ, on the cross, quoting Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

"This verse contains the most excruciating utterance in the Savior's atoning ordeal," writes Elder Holland, "perhaps the most excruciating cry in history."

For me, the unspoken implication is obvious. If the Savior turned to the psalms at a time of crisis, how much more should I look there for guidance, strength and comfort?

And to help Latter-day Saints do just that, Elder Holland spent several years writing "For Times of Trouble: Spiritual Solace from the Psalms" (Deseret Book, $26.99). http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865568167/Elder-Hollands-book-offers-help-in-finding-spiritual-solace-from-the-Psalms.html

Over the centuries, many believers have "prayed the psalms" — recited them as personal prayers; but since members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to reserve scripted prayers for ordinances, Elder Holland presents the Psalter as a meditative source, as a springboard for our own private petitions.

In fact, the tone and timbre of Elder Holland's prose leaves the impression much of it was written in the wake of such prayer.

As Elder Holland points out, there are dozens of approaches to the psalms. One can view them them as poetry, as Jewish history, as theology, even as prophesy. But he has chosen to see them — at least here — as "help." And such a "ministering" approach to the Psalms has given us some of the most profound and popular books in Christendom.

Rather than move from psalm to psalm, Elder Holland singles out several verses from various psalms and connects them to a theme — trust, fear, finding perspective — then follows with a short personal commentary that runs about the length of a newspaper column. This "defining the text" and then commenting has been gracing Christian sermons for centuries.

Along with impressions on many psalms in general, there is also a section on specific Messianic psalms and also what many consider the Jewel of the Bible, Psalm 23 ("The Lord is My Shepherd").

In an interesting leap, Elder Holland begins his book with a psalm from the middle of the pack — Psalm 56. The reason, he says, is the thoughts there serve as a backdrop for everything to follow. The Psalmist writes, "This I know … God is for me."

Writes the LDS apostle, "… God is for us. He loves us. He is our Heavenly Father. He never sleeps nor slumbers in His watchcare over us. His work and His glory are to save us, to exalt us, to see us safely home with Him."

As I finished and put the book aside, I remembered a comment on the psalms by the late Catholic writer Thomas Merton.

"The Church indeed likes what is old, not because it is old but rather because it is 'young,' " wrote Merton. "In the Psalms we drink divine praise at its pure and stainless source … We return to the youthful strength and directness with which the ancient psalmists voiced their adoration of the God of Israel."

As a bonus here, in Elder Holland's commentary on those psalms we also drink insights that will help both young and old find lasting comfort and authentic joy during troubled times.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears every other week in Mormon Times. Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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