Yesterday morning I awoke to the news of Osama Bin Laden's death, and the disturbing "celebration" with which it was greeted in some corners of our country.
That afternoon, by sheer coincidence, I gathered with some other clergy and musicians at the Institute of Liturgical Studies to discuss the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and, in particular, his practice of praying the psalms with fellow Christians who were resisting the Nazi regime. It is moving, disturbing and thought-provoking to think about the range of emotions in the psalms -- especially the longing for vengeance -- on a day like today.
Bonhoeffer's own view -- and obviously this is a little problematic from a literary- historical perspective -- was that Christians pray the psalms "in Christ," that is, never alone and never solely as ourselves. It doesn't matter whether "I" identify or agree with the psalmist in any given moment. Jesus, he argues, is the only one who can pray the full range of the psalmody, with its lament, praise, demands for justice and cries that one is innocent. When we pray the psalms, we are really just joining our voice to his.
I like this notion of praying "into" Christ, especially since it can cut more than one way when I start thinking about my own innocence or guilt. To pray for vengeance means to understand that someone else might very well want that vengeance against me, and the only place our two prayers can be reconciled is in Christ. Perhaps this is also a way forward to think about praying the Psalms as Christians in a post-Holocaust age. We can sing or pray them as Christ's song, knowing full well that the Jews do not understand them this way; and we can pray into our fraught history together knowing that only God can finally reconcile us as brothers and sisters.