Review of Psalms Alive by David Kitz
Are you new to Bible study? Are you stuck in your current Bible study method? If you’re looking for an example of what it looks like to dig deeper into the Scriptures and to read more creatively, look no further than Psalms Alive by David Kitz.
If you get bogged down in the academics of learning Greek words, or if you just need a break from verse-by-verse commentary, like I did, Psalms Alive can be the tool to change your mindset from using the Bible as a textbook to enjoying the Lord more by bringing the Scriptures back to life.
This book does not discuss every psalm, nor is it a verse-by-verse commentary of even the selected psalms. It is more of a creative response, an imaginative and personal rumination of 13 psalms. David Kitz is a very creative author; he dramatizes the psalms in one-man plays. As he has been memorizing, recounting, reciting, and meditating on these psalms, he has gained personal intimacy with each one. This book is some of these meditations and how they have impacted him.
David Kitz shows us several creative ways to personalize the messages in Scripture, specifically the Psalms. The Psalms are an intimate peephole into how the authors connected with the Lord. “Within the Psalms we hear the deepest longings of the human heart” (p. 17). Not only does he encourage us to memorize and meditate on psalms, but he also shares personal stories that made these verses come alive to him.
If you’re looking to grow deeper in your relationship with the Lord by understanding deeper meanings of His Word, one way to do that is to take a break from word-by-analysis and let your imagination take you to places David Kitz took me, places I had not been to in a long time with some insights I had never heard before.
1. Place One: my Wondering Mind
When the heavens declare the glory of God, I can’t help but stand in awe, especially since I read chapter one of Psalms Alive. I’ve always been interested in astronomy, but this chapter sealed the deal. This was probably my favorite chapter of the entire book, the very first one.
I won’t spoil it by sharing anymore; I’ll only add that I read several paragraphs to my oldest son, and we had a great discussion because of it. I now also take a few minutes longer to gaze up at the stars whenever it’s a clear night. You’ll have to read the first chapter for yourself to see why. 😉
Chapter 1: The First Witness Speaks
2. Place Two: my Creative Mind
I was blessed to benefit from one enhancement that I wouldn’t have had if I had treated this book like a normal read. The fabulous Facebook group Growing Through God’s Word led by Jan Cox encouraged me to put my thoughts about each chapter into some package, whether in picture, poem, a list of words, song that the Holy Spirit brought to mind, or any other thoughts that the Holy Spirit led us to.
Many times as I read a good book, or even the Bible, I’ll enjoy the sound of the words and hopefully even learn something; but as soon as I’m finished, I won’t remember most of what I just read. Using this Facebook group forced me to mull over what I read each day, deep enough to be able to put it into my own words or pictures.
I got to the point where I would read David’s chapter looking for a visual, a word picture that I could turn into a visual representation. This not only helped me to read with more intention, but it also helped me to take the words and make them mine in some way. I had to form an opinion, personalize the content, in order to present it in a way that others would understand.
For example, in the first chapter, I decided to use my son’s watercolors to go back to my childhood dream of being an artist. The picture above is the one I created to represent what the first chapter about Psalm 19 meant to me.
For the Preface, I started by using an artistic method I was better with: scrapbooking. I used the beauty of different fonts and descriptive words to show what stuck out to me most.
3. Place Three: my Concrete Mind
I don’t know about you, but I have a habit when I’m reading, even when I’m reading the Bible, of skimming quickly past two extremes: phrases that I’m uber-familiar with and words I don’t really understand. If I’m reading in the KJV, there are passages I memorized as a child or that I’ve heard preached so often, I think, “I already know this,” and skip it. Or if there is a word or phrase that doesn’t mean anything specifically to me, and I’m vague as to what it’s talking about, then I’ll jump past it. I don’t let either extreme in; they’re in one ear and washed out the other without any impact on my mind.
David Kitz not only usually used a Bible version I wasn’t as familiar with (NIV), forcing me to pay more attention to the actual phrasing, but he also painted word pictures about what a phrase might have meant or what it personally meant to him. Sometimes he dug into the historical or cultural background of the text to understand where the psalmist might have been coming from. This forced me to get a more concrete idea of the psalmist’s message.
Sometimes that struck me in the way the words were organized, as a very structured use of poetic imagery, like in this verse map I shared.
Chapter 2: The Second Witness Speaks
Other times, it reminded me of experiences I’ve had in my past. This picture is my attempt at showing how the ancient altar I was privileged to visit in Israel (dating from Old Testament times) is now connected in my mind with the churches I grew up in. The point that David’s chapter brought out to me was that the place doesn’t matter, what matters is the presence of the Lord, which even the sparrows try to make their dwelling close to.
Chapter 12: How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place
For another of my favorite pictures, I used crayon. I loved to include my favorite quotes from the author as well as the Psalm.
Chapter 25: Filled with Laughter
One last favorite of mine was a digital scrapbook of sorts:
Chapter 16: Our God, the Extremist
Now, I must be honest. There were a few things about this book that I didn’t like.
1. I didn’t relate to a few of his personal stories, especially the part of chapter 16 that seemed to be encouraging his readers to be strong, testosterone-filled, King David-like leaders.
2. I did not like change in tone for chapter 19. This new voice seemed to be arrogantly telling God He was doing everything wrong. I think his intention may have been to use tongue-in-cheek insincerity to show that arrogance as wrong, but it wasn’t obvious enough for me.
3. At first, I would have appreciated a more organized format, with outlined headings and bullet points. I marked up my copy with different sections like this. 😉 But then, as I began to get used to his style, I realized that organization is not his strength. His strength is his creative word pictures and illustrations.
4. I also didn’t approve of his word choices a few times; as a writer, those things stand out to me. (For example, see if you can guess what rubbed me the wrong way about these pages: 63, 85, 91, 227.) But those choices were his to make, and he’s obviously a different kind of writer from me.
Except for those few caveats, however, the experience overall was enjoyable. I can recommend Psalms Alive as a break from a stale, academic kind of Bible study. It will remind you that there is beauty and wonder in the poetry of the Psalms.
I would also challenge everyone:
- To read the Bible in a version different from your normal;
- To take just a little extra time to put your daily study into some summary. You can use a journal or a blog or a sketch book or a file in your computer, something that will force you to ponder your reading longer and to think more creatively and concretely about God’s Word.