Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Eugene Peterson on Praying the Psalms and the Origin of The Message

It was after the initial publication of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (IVP, 1980) that Eugene Peterson began work on The Message.  In the 20th Anniversary Preface to A Long Obedience (2nd edition, IVP, 2000), Peterson identifies the impetus for this "fresh translation of the Holy Scriptures."

In fact, the fifteen Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) that provide the text here for developing "discipleship in an instant society" provided the impetus for embarking on the new translation. All I had in mind at first was translating the Psalms into the idiomatic North American language that I heard people using on the streets and in the shopping malls and at football games. I knew that following Jesus could never develop into a "long obedience" without a deepening life of prayer and that the Psalms had always been the primary means by which Christians learned to pray everything they lived, and live everything they prayed over the long haul.

But the people I was around didn't pray the Psalms. That puzzled me; Christians have always prayed the Psalms; why didn't my friends and neighbors? Then I realized that it was because the language, cadenced and beautiful and harmonious, seemed remote from their jerky and messy and discordant everyday lives. But when these Psalms were first prayed and written by our Hebrew ancestors, they were every bit as jerky and messy and discordant as anything we experience today. I wanted to translate them from their Hebrew original and convey the raw, rough and robust energy that is so characteristic of these prayers. I wanted people to start praying them again, not just admiring them from a distance, and thereby learn to pray everything they experienced and felt and thought as they followed Jesus, not just what they thought was proper to pray in church.
(Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, page 12)