I read recently that the humble cassette tape is making a resurgence (see “Why Cassette Tapes are Making a Comeback” by Nathan Olivarez-Giles from The Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2017). It’s very inflexibility is one of the draws of this antiquated medium. With a cassette, one has to be patient. Because you can’t easily skip tracks, you have to wait for your music, and you have to listen to it in the order it comes.
To its aficionados, the ability to make a mix-tape is also a draw of the cassette. Of course, one can make a playlist with almost any digital device these days. But the mix tape, because of its limitations, forces one to think about the placement of songs. As Olivarez-Giles puts it:
“Mixmaster’s quote: ‘When you buy a tape or an album and the songs are, like, the band’s put ’em in some [expletive] order like they want you to listen to it in that order? . . . ‘”
“‘But you put [the songs] next to each other, and they start to elevate each other.'”
It struck me as I read this, that these same words could apply to the Book of Psalms. For those of us who sing the Psalms in worship, we often tackle them one at a time, taking a single Psalm or even a portion of a Psalm. But the One who gave us the Psalms did not give them in isolation. They are in a sense, His mix-tape for us. There are some groupings we can easily discern – the Psalms of Ascent, for example. But other connections are more subtle. Like two songs on a mix-tape, the Psalms at times interact with one another; they speak to each other and also to us if we have the ears to hear. I have written on how Psalms 80 and 81 seem to do this; they present two dies of a story, man’s and God’s and the juxtaposition adds to the meaning of both.
What does this mean for us? Simply this: that we should make an effort to occasionally read and sing the Psalms in their larger context. This is often not possible in weekly worship but the congregational Psalm-sing would seem the perfect opportunity to not just sing through whole Psalms but even through sections of the Psalter itself.