Book Review // Songs for Suffering by Simon Stocks


It’s great to be asked to review this book as Simon was my biblical studies tutor at college during my ministerial training. I am a big fan of the Psalms, but I also recognise that they are a bit like marmite, with some people choosing to read them as infrequently as possible. But I would say, don’t let that put you off, this might just be the book that helps you combat that!

Songs for Suffering is a wonderful guide for those in a season of struggling or as Stocks notes ‘for anyone who is going through tough times, whatever form that takes’. And it really is for anyone, written simply and not full of theological jargon, making it hugely accessible, but with a depth of knowledge evident from Stocks’ own academic experience.

Focussing on psalms of lament, the book takes us on a journey. Using personal reflections and stories from peoples lives, the author encourages the reader to deal with questions in their own lives, from personal failure, to issues of identity, and deeper still to despair, grief and personal suffering.

Each chapter guides us though a particular theme, asking questions for the reader to consider and pointing us to specific psalms for individual needs or circumstances. It is written in a very practical way, addressing how we can personally use the words of the psalms to deepen our own prayer life and each chapter finishes with some suggestions for what to do next.

However this is not just a practical guide, but a book filled with the authors own experience of life and pastoral ministry, written with compassion and a deep understanding of what it is to encounter personally, and come alongside those who suffer.

Stocks doesn’t shy away from difficult themes like shame, doubt and anger, but on the contrary embraces them with confidence, bringing a sense of assurance for the reader, encouraging them to engage with the themes for themselves.

Although my sense is that this is a book to work through from start to finish, it could also be something to dip into in particular times of trouble, or in supporting others facing difficult times, and in fact a helpful index at the end points to specific psalms for different circumstances.

Stocks reminds us afresh that The Psalms are a wonderful resource, passed down through the ages and used as the bedrock of Christian prayer for centuries, that are just as useful today, giving us the tools to pray in ‘just about any situation imaginable’ keeping us in touch with God even when pressures threaten to stop us.

The author notes: ‘may you find deeper connection to God, as you do so, even in the toughest of times…’ and this truly is a book that will help you do that.

Songs for Suffering will be published by Hendrickson Publishers Inc in April 2017. and can be pre-ordered at most good book stores online including Eden (priced £12.99) and Amazon (priced £11.99). There is also a website that goes alongside the book and will host other resources linked to lament at: www.cryhard.org

 

Simon Stocks

The Rev’d Dr Simon Stocks teaches Biblical Studies at St Augustine’s College of Theology, England (formerly known as SEITE). He is Chair of the Theological Educators’ Network and also ministers in the Anglican parish of Christ Church, Purley. After a career in civil engineering, he trained for ministry and worked in parish ministry in the Diocese of Southwark, before undertaking doctoral studies. His research interests include the interactions between poetic form and interpretation in Hebrew poetry, and the theology of lament.

Naked Prayers // Book Review

MMcover1I first came across Mara Measor last year when I was getting into prayer doodling. I loved the simplicity of her drawings, yet expressing something quite deep, so I was delighted to be asked to review her book ‘Naked Prayers’ recently (and note to all, do not google ‘naked prayers’ under images as I just did…).

Measor started to doodle her prayers some years ago when in Ethiopia and whilst feeling isolated, her relationship with God, as she notes, ‘blossomed’. Written in diary form with short entries, ‘Naked Prayers’ is easy to navigate through, or just dip into, however it is not an easy read – the book itself came later and grew out of a difficult period in her life. It is in fact a heartfelt journey through Measor’s faith and a severe bout of depression. Reading it feels like being allowed a glimpse into someone’s own personal struggle, and the battles that she has faced with herself and with God.

Having come alongside people with depression I can recognise some of her thoughts in others experiences, but for me too, some of her words just resonate, times when I don’t know what to pray, or what to do, she expresses some of what it means to just be human.

April 14

I’m scared right now.

I’m scared of not knowing what I’m doing. Scared of going

for the wrong things. Scared I’m all wrong.

prayerMM1

 

Restore me, Oh God.

 

Similarities have been drawn with the book of Psalms and indeed some of the words she pours out bear the same expressiveness of David, the pain and hurt, as well as the celebration and joy. Measor’s strength of faith is evident throughout the book and there are lots of scriptural links too. Her honesty amidst pain and turmoil, is sure to help many people as they struggle with their own battles and journey of faith.

The similarity with Psalms also follows as Measor is also a musician and some of the entries in the book have songs to go alongside which can be accessed online via spotify or you can download the album via iTunes. The songs really do add to the book, just taking her thoughts and prayers to another level, but in the same intimate way. Do give them a listen if you can.

 

 

October 29

Lord, I am a bit sad today.

But I love you with all my ability.

And lack of ability.

 

Naked Prayers is published by SPCK and is available now, priced at £7.99. 

Inclination

inclinedhisearJPG

 

I’ve been away in Canterbury at Vicar School all week and have so much to process and reflect on, plenty of blog fodder coming up soon but for now just this. This photo was taken on the first evening of the week and I love how the rainbow seems to end at the pot of gold, the cathedral.

And this was just one scripture that really stood out to me one day at Morning Prayer. Such an amazing thought, isn’t it –  that God would incline his ear towards anyone, let alone me. You know those times when you can’t quite hear someone, you lean in closer, wanting to hear what they are saying. It’s like that – God leaning in, cupping his ear maybe, not wanting to miss a word. Even when I am not saying anything at all, he’s there, inclining towards me…

Review of the new Psalm App from the CofE


Psalms App Screenshot copy

The description for ‘Reflections on the Psalms’ says this:

embark on a rewarding spiritual journey through the rich and inspiring landscapes of the Psalms…

Of course one doesn’t need an app to do that but it certainly helps! I used to carry my bible everywhere but now I have it on my ipad, along with novels, theology books and sermon notes. Digital technology has enabled many things to be improved beyond compare and my spiritual journey is no exception. I fell in love with the Psalms fairly recently having decided to work through them as a Lent exercise, if only I’d had this app at the time! Featuring all 150 Psalms, each is accompanied by a short reflection and prayer. The reflections are written by a team of people (the same team that put together the previously published reflections for daily prayer app) and reflect the knowledge, diversity, experience and personality of those writing them. From the academic, but theological approach of Jeremy Worthen to the more poetic style of Paula Gooder, each aims to bring the words of the Psalm alive, highlighting to the reader a gem of information, an important phrase or a practical suggestion to bring the Psalmists words right into the heart of our lives.

Psalms App iPhone copy

It’s helpful that the reflections are short enough that one can dip into them over a quick cuppa, but equally with enough meat to enable deeper meditation when the time allows. Aside from this there’s a helpful introduction to the app, with suggestions on how to use it; a detailed and helpful guide to the Psalter by Paula Gooder; and some information on the history of Psalm use in the church.

You can choose to read the Psalms as and when you feel, dripping in and out by number, day or according to the BCP schedule.

Priced at £8.99, it’s perhaps slightly on the pricey side but when you consider the amount of information shared within it’s well worth it (plus it’s a lot cheaper than the book and is more easily portable!). It’s available for iPhone/ipad and Android now on the app store/ google play.

I’ve been using this app for a few weeks and I know it will continue to be a useful and enriching tool for my Christian life. As Joanna Collicutt notes in her reflection on Psalm 5: ‘This is a journey to a destination not an aimless ramble’ and apps like ‘Reflections on the Psalms’ truly are enabling us to ramble less and focus more on the destination…

If you really want you can hear me talking about it below too!

Psalm 48 // Prayer Doodling

So it’s been a while since I uploaded a video and this time I thought I’d do something a bit different. As part of my module on Spirituality for #VicarSchool, I’ve been praying through the Psalms for a few months, and going back to my creative roots I’ve been doodling through a few of them. Having not done much anything much creative for a while I have loved doing this and it has really helped me to focus on particular parts of each Psalm. I’ve felt while doing it, that even the doodling in itself is a prayer, or an offering to God.

So, I usually start by just writing down whatever words or phrases stand out to me from the Psalm or passage I am looking it, then add to it as I feel led. Sometimes they come out looking great and I’ve tweeted a few, other times they look a bit of a mess but I don’t really mind about that because I’m not creating a word of art but a work of praise…

So here’s a little vid of this mornings efforts from Psalm 48… (apologies for getting my hair in the way frequently!)

Who can show us any good?

I wasn’t really sure what to do for Lent this year so I decided to start each day with a Psalm.  I don’t often have time to pray first thing at the moment but I do have time to read a Psalm which I can then reflect on as I go through the day.
This really struck me in Psalm 4:


Many are asking, “who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.
You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and wine abound…

It’s that line: ‘Many are asking, who can show us any good?’ that really strikes me, it’s a word for today too, many are asking in this day and age, where is the good in this world? Our newspapers are full of horror, murder and war. We are incited to feel anger and injustice (sometimes where there is none). Every petty dispute is shared with our wider world via the powers of social media. We are awash with it and immersed in it.

And yet still people say ‘where is the good?’. 

It’s a challenge, church. 

Who can show the world good? well if it isn’t us I don’t know who can. I don’t want to see stories in the paper of the church getting it wrong or making mistakes (which we are quite able to do, none of us are perfect!), but could we as The Church, as churches, as Christians, make a concerted effort to be bringers of good? to help those around us see the answer to this question…?

If we have the light of God shining on us, it should also be reflecting out of us, and we know, it brings far more joy than earthly pleasures – ok so grain and wine being in abundance (v.7 above) might not be quite so relevant today, but what about when you get a new car, or get to do something extravagant like a night out at posh restaurant. Isn’t the joy of knowing Jesus far, far, FAR greater than that?!

My role is focussed on Mission and as such I spend a large mount of my time trying to do exactly this, trying to be a bringer of good. Where we reach out to those around us, in our projects and outreach, the first point is usually about showing something good to the people or to an area. It’s about recognising the needs in a place that God has led us to and addressing them the best we can. We want to be seen as people who can show some good to those around them. I’m not going to turn this into a rant about churches that don’t get what ‘mission’ is, or who don’t engage in it, tempting though that may be ;) but I’d love it if some people read this and went away thinking:

 how can I be someone who answers the question, ‘who can show us any good?’…