Fred R. Anderson
Singing God’s Psalms: Metrical Psalms and Reflections for Each Sunday in the Church Year
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016.
Available at Eerdmans.
By Jill Firth
Singing God’s Psalms had its genesis in a time of spiritual dryness for pastor Fred Anderson, who turned to the Psalms for nourishment, recalling advice from seminary professor Bernhard Anderson (no relation). Following the example of John Calvin, who had valued the metrical psalms, Anderson began rendering one psalm into meter each week. Based on English translations, but with some recourse to Hebrew, he developed singable versions of the psalms, paired with familiar hymn tunes, and trialled them in his church. By the end of the year, though he could not compete with Isaac Watts, who reputedly metred a psalm every day before breakfast, Anderson had completed over twenty psalms. He also found his prayer had been renewed through his immersion in the Psalter.
By 2012, the lectionary project was complete. In his foreword to Singing God’s Psalms, Walter Brueggemann writes his appreciation of the work of Anderson, noting that the lectionary psalms emphasise praise but are light on lament and complaint. Anderson found the lament of Psalm 130 the most difficult to write. He set it to the tune “In Babilone.”
From the depths of deepest grieving,
Lord, I cry to you in trust.
If you counted our transgressions,
Who could be considered just?
Anderson’s next project is to complete metered versions for the remainder of the 150 psalms of the full Psalter.Anderson has prepared a psalm for each Sunday of the church year according to the three year Common Lectionary (Revised). He renders the psalms into contemporary and inclusive language. A brief explanation of the history of metrical psalm singing, and common metrical patterns, is given on pages xiv-xvi. A list of psalms and canticles for all three years of the lectionary is found on pages xvii-xx. The book also includes versions of the canticles including the Song of Hannah; Isaiah 12.2-6; Isaiah 58.1-12; Lamentations 3.19-26; Song of Mary; Song of Zechariah; and Song of Simeon. Accompanying each psalm and canticle is a brief pastoral reflection, which was originally blogged on his church’s website.
Fred R. Anderson is pastor emeritus of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. Fifty of his psalms are available in an earlier collection, Singing Psalms of Joy and Praise (Westminster John Knox Press, 1986). Singing God’s Psalms is published in the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies Series (edited by John D. Witvliet) which promotes reflection on the history, theology and practice of Christian worship and seeks to stimulate renewal of worship in Christian congregations. Other volumes in the series consider the relationship of worship to art, poetry, music, history and evangelism. Singing God’s Psalms would be enjoyed especially in churches where traditional tunes are well known.
Jill Firth is a Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne. She holds a PhD in Psalms studies.