“All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. “Line, please,” said I.
Shakespeare’s words begin a long speech about the eerie predictability of life, in which men and women are born, mature, grow old, enter “second childishness,” and die.
But no matter how predictable life may be, its changes can be jarring as we experience them.
Sometimes this is the result of a widespread societal problem, like the prolonged adolescence that leads us to despise “adulting.” Other times, it’s the whiplash of unexpected tumult and transition. Still more, it’s the gnawing feeling of insignificance that comes from “spinning your wheels.”
All the world’s a stage, and we know how the act goes. But that doesn’t mean we know what to say when the transition or the tragedy – or even the triumph – comes for us.
We need a script, a revelatory rehearsal for the crushing inevitability of life and death.
That’s why I read the Psalms aloud.
The Psalms are a storehouse of godly responses that train the heart and mind to see all of life as from, under, and with God.
This is more than searching the web for “psalms about anger.” This is more than Scripture sound-bites that leave us feeling good about ourselves.
This is about training our hearts and minds to think in categories that are captive to God’s self-revelation so that we are transformed to make them our own personal and natural response to whatever comes our way.
That’s why it’s so important to read entire psalms at a time. We don’t want to be like picky kids who eat around their peas. We want to take it all in as God inspired it. We want to be nourished and grow.
As I work through the Psalter, I am tempted to dread Psalm 119, one of the longest chapters in the Bible. But I am reminded that even the length of the psalm is part of its message: to read only one verse and ignore the other 175 is to miss the exhaustive beauty of the Lord’s gracious commands.
This is a spiritual discipline, and like other disciplines, it is a self-imposed program that has us exercise parts of our heart that we might not otherwise exercise before we feel the need. Reading Psalm 119 in its entirety on Sunday evening fuels the Christian struggle to find joy in Leviticus and Deuteronomy on Monday morning.
Okay, so read the Psalms, but why read them aloud? In short, it helps me go from outside observer to active participant.
My heart and mind are as engaged as possible to become increasingly conformed to the image of Christ, the true and better David, because I have given them a script to follow in the triumphs, tragedies, and transitions of life.
And I haven’t merely read the script, I’ve rehearsed it.
This is the miracle of the Psalms: as inspired Scripture, they are God’s Word, and yet, through my reading them aloud, they become my words.
Shakespeare may have never audibly said, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” It was written by him for his character, Jaques, and now it has proceeded from every actor playing Jaques over so many centuries. Yet it remains Shakespeare’s line.
Those caught up in Christ need never suspect that their story will turn out to ultimately be a tragedy – our God wrote us a divine comedy.
Whatever act we are in, whatever turn our story takes, we can submit our words to God’s and proclaim with the psalmist:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”