Brueggemann's Bridge Between Form Criticism of The Psalms, Theology and Spirituality

Brueggemann's Bridge Between Form Criticism of The Psalms, Theology and Spirituality

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Brueggemann's Bridge Between Form Criticism of The Psalms, Theology and Spirituality

‘Form Criticism' of the Psalms has been around for less than a hundred years. Prior to 1920's study use of the Psalms was pretty much limited to a ‘historical-critical' approach and a ‘Christological' approach. That is – the establishing of who wrote what and why and the reading of psalms within the context of ‘Christ', respectively. To fully appreciate how Brueggemann builds these bridges between form criticism, theology and spirituality we will first look at a basic understanding of the foundations of form criticism onto which Brueggemann offered his new schema. Secondly we shall look at Brueggemann's schema and how he builds and develops these bridges into theology and spirituality. Finally we shall be reflecting on ‘Christian spirituality' That is; we shall be reflecting on how this schema helps us in our engagement with secular spirituality with particular reference to the area of ‘urban hip-hop' and ‘new punk'. I am basing my understanding and framework of spirituality on the work of Bob Mayo in his work ‘Making Sense of Generation Y' (2006). In it he proposes that spirituality can be understood in two ways – Formative spirituality; that is a level of spiritual understanding and awareness that everyone is born with and everyone has. And secondly transformative spirituality; that is a level of spiritual understanding and awareness that builds on formative spirituality into having a personal and communal outworking.
And so in answering ‘How does Brueggemann build bridges between form criticism of the Psalms, theology and spirituality?' I shall be addressing spirituality in a Christian transformative understanding and from a secular formative spirituality understanding.

As stated earlier it wasn't until the 1920's and the work of Hermann Gunkel, and his student Sigmund Mowinkel, that form criticism really started. Gunkel and Mowinkel observed that the Psalms only really had a very limited framework of approaches and styles – The Hymn, Communal Lament, Individual Lament, Royal Psalms and Individual Thanksgiving. Further work identified five further, less common categories of Psalm – Communal Thanksgiving, Wisdom, Pilgrimage, Entrance Liturgies and finally Mixed Poems .

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According to Gunkel in classifying the Psalms and putting them into the separate groupings three conditions had to be met;
a. The psalms had to have a similar setting or basis in worship
b. The psalms had to have similar feelings or sentiments running through them
c. The psalms had to have a similar structure
It was through using these conditions that he came up with his five main categories and subsequent five lesser categories. Since these categories have been set down most form criticism of the psalms have pretty much followed this framework. It is into this arena that Brueggemann proposed his schema of orientation, disorientation and new-orientation.

Brueggemann suggests that all the Psalms can be roughly grouped around three general themes of orientation, disorientation and new-orientation. He proposes this not as a solid unyielding framework but as a way of helping us;
"see things we might not have seen otherwise."
Within the Psalms of orientation we find an expression of confidence in a creator God that consistently maintains life and provides for his people.
"One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendour of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate."
Brueggemann does not see these Psalms ‘as the most interesting' because of their lack of ‘tension' and ‘movement' in their feeling and construction. Parallels with Westermann's mode of classification are clear at this point with what he calls ‘descriptive hymns'.
"The function of such description is the continued reaffirmation and reconstruction of this good world. Thus songs of creation, wisdom, retribution and blessings, all function in the same context of good order and well being."
Within disorientation we find a lot more realistic reflection of what day to day life is really like, both in an individual capacity and a communal capacity. Within the Psalms of disorientation there is a place where we, as a people of God, are honest about how we feel about current situations. Within this honesty there is an ode to ‘what things used to be like. Within Psalm 42 we find a real song of disorientation that has within it a remembrance of things past, or a time of orientation?
"These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the House of God."
Finally we move from orientation and the thanking of our Creator God into a period of us feeling loss and abandonment into a time of new orientation. That is;
"The Psalms regularly bear witness to the surprising gift of new life just when none had been expected."
The expression and gift new life and hope comes as such a surprise and shock that the community or individual can be left with no doubt that these blessings came from God.
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me."

There are four main bridges that I shall look at that Brueggemann builds between form criticism of the Psalms , theology and spirituality;
1. The life of Christ
2. Within the liturgical context of baptism
3. Within the dynamic of human existence
4. Subversion of the dominant culture
I shall deal with each of these areas in turn.
Within the three major events in Jesus' life we find the first ‘bridge' in the schema; His birth, His death and His resurrection.
I. Orientation clearly links with Christ's birth
o "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours"

II. Disorientation links with Christ's death
o "And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
III. New Orientation links with Christ's resurrection
o "While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God."

In offering this schema for the Psalms Brueggemann has offered a clear bridge between the gospel narrative and the Psalms. In doing this the gospels, especially the Passion Week, offer a clearer and more honest account and challenge to our Christian walk, theology and spirituality.
Within the context of Baptism we find, again, the three clear stages or bridges set out within the liturgy.
"We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. There fore, in joyful obedience to your son, we baptize into his fellowship those who come to faith in him."
I. Orientation – ‘We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism'
We see a foundational focus of the liturgy and sacrament of Baptism on God himself. This orientates the service on Him alone.
II. Disorientation – ‘In it we are buried with Christ in His death'
Within Baptism we acknowledge and hand over ourselves to him. It's when we put ourselves to death in him that we then can move onto a new focus.
III. New Orientation – ‘Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit'
Finally through this we find a new focus of our life in Christ Himself.
It is from within this framework or bridge that I, personally, find most interest. Brueggemann, when constructing this schema, relied heavily upon the work of Paul Ricoeur in his work ‘Biblical Hermeneutics'. In his book Ricoeur describes human existence as one that is, or should, be continually moving in and through stages of disorientation and reorientation. These should be the normal dynamics of human existence. In fact there is a very large link between the three main stages of human development;
I. Birth and childhood - orientation
II. Adolescence - disorientation
III. Adulthood – new orientation
In ‘Table 1' Clarke describes a three stage process of human development which he calls the ‘Tightrope of Adolescence'. In a child's early stage of development it should rely on the relationships and context of the family. From this ‘family' the child should be given and look for providers of protection, warmth, love and a sense of acceptance. Throughout the first ten to eleven years of development the child's sense of ‘self' is gained from this arena. For the point of this paper this paper can be linked to Brueggemann's period of ‘orientation'.
Once a child begins to ‘move away' from the role of ‘child' in the family system they move into adolescence. This is usually signalled by the physical onset of puberty. Clarke states that the tightrope walk signifies a process of ‘individuation' . From within the onset of puberty comes a time of turmoil and change within an adolescent that is psychological, social and physical. Again this is an obvious link to Brueggemann's period of disorientation.
Upon completion of ‘individuation' an adolescent is deemed to have reached adulthood. This, in practice, is a lot harder to signal than the start of adolescence. Within society at large there are no clear movements from adolescence to adulthood – individuation is a fluid and even internalised process. But within this idea comes recognition that ‘to be an adult' is a clear period of ‘new orientation' – whether that is a positive or negative thing.
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