Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

SAID – 99 PSALMS [Feature Review]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1612612946″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/512nLLbMz4L.jpg” width=”220″ alt=”SAID” ]Psalms of the Modern Man: Prayers for the Revelation of God
 A Feature Review of

99 Psalms


Mark S. Burrows, Translator
Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2013
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Reviewed by Justine Von Arb
99 Psalms is a collection of prayers that may seem improper, or even sacrilegious. Said does not supplement his questions with words of trust in God; instead, Said allows the raw emotions of his heart and the unaltered thoughts of his mind to pour out onto the page, allowing the reader a rare glimpse into the conflict that takes place as one struggles to understand God and one’s relationship with Him. Said prays the prayers that are not always comforting to read; he yearns to understand God’s uniquely personal relationship with man, even in the modern era, and this can only be accomplished by asking difficult questions, pleading for deliverance, and begging God to make himself known to the modern man.


Indeed, the psalms that Said pens echo the biblical psalms, but not the psalms of comfort to which we turn when we are thanking God for his providence. Mark S. Burrows, who translated Said’s psalms from the original German, describes Said’s poetry as “an authentic way of praying, one that is direct and unsentimental, both simple and demanding enough to voice a hope that can move us” (Said 7). Burrows’ interpretation of Said’s poetry bookends the psalms, as both a preface and an afterword provide context for the psalms. While his interpretation is based on personal communication with Said that took place during the process of translation, it is difficult to read Said’s psalms with an understanding other than the one that Burrows presents. However, his description of Said’s authenticity is fitting; the baring of Said’s heart results in psalms that cannot be ignored. Said asks the Lord to “spread wide [his] arms / and protect us” (26), but he also boldly implores the Lord to “despair of us / because we’ve become so confident / with our calculations and our machines” (27). These two psalms capture the diverse nature of the collection as a whole; Said asks for the forgiveness and protection of humanity, and at the same time, he suggests that the Lord should despair of modern man because of man’s preoccupation with reason and material goods.


Ultimately, this challenges our understanding of our relationship with God. Said asks the questions that many of us ask when we are faced with doubts and internal turmoil: do we have a right to angry prayers and impassioned pleas for justice? Burrows posits that “Said speaks courageously against the empty moralism so dominant in our culture” (Said 6). Thus, Said seeks to explore and understand both man’s relationship with God and, by extension, man’s relationship with a modern culture that is rife with immorality and depravity. Said writes with concern for the voiceless and the oppressed, likening the world to a “global market / [where] everything is auctioned / that keeps silent” (109). This psalm cries out for justice for the least of these; Said desires that the Lord “call [his] name loud and clear” (109), revealing the glory of God and bringing restoration and order to this broken world. Thus, Said does not simply mourn the mistreatment of the poor, the impoverished, and the oppressed; he cries out in order that God might come and restore those who are broken and lost.


Furthermore, Said desires that, when God comes to heal humanity’s brokenness, God would fully reveal himself to man. The portrait of God that is consistently painted in 99 Psalms is that of, as Burrows suggests, “a strangely remote and often complicated benefactor who often seems absent to us, but who also stands in need of relationship” (Said 125). While this understanding of God may be unconventional, it challenges the reader to observe every facet of God’s being – including both God’s closeness and God’s distance. As such, the predominating cry of Said is for the Lord to reveal himself to man in the midst of the trials and tribulations of the modern world. He asks that the Lord “be loud and urgent / [and] share in [his] life and [his] passions” (38) in order that he might build with God a personal relationship of intimacy and understanding. Thus, Said prays for revelation: “i ask you o lord / reveal all your names to me / even the last / the hidden” (17). The longing for God to reveal his hidden name hints at Said’s prayer for a full revelation of God’s character. Said longs to know his Lord fully and completely, a longing that is not distinct to Said himself, but one that is shared across humanity. Indeed, he seeks God “with [his] flesh with [his] sorrow” (69), yearning for God with every aspect of his being. He recognizes that, even in the midst of trial and difficulty, God can still be revealed to man; in fact, it is often in times of sorrow that we are most intentional about seeking God.


The questions that Said asks in 99 Psalms are not necessarily answered. The cries of his heart, the yearnings of his soul – these lay open to the reader, and to God, but they are only one side of the conversation. However, these psalms – these prayers – belong to the reader, as well. The questions that he asks, the doubts that he has, and the statements that he makes pertain not only to himself, but also to every modern man. As Said struggles to understand his relationship with God, he invites the reader to ask the same questions, to offer prayers that they may not feel as though they have a right to pray. He invites the doubt, the pleas, and the cries, knowing that it is when one asks difficult questions that God reveals himself to man.

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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