The Psalms of Hallel are a short, powerful collection of “Hallelujah Psalms” designed for joyous group celebrations and private prayer sessions.
Remind me! What are the Psalms?
The Book of Psalms is an ancient collection of Hebrew prayer-poems. Psalms are part of a tool-kit for private and group experiences of prayer and worship. The editors and collectors of the Psalms had some ideas in mind about the world, about God, and about themselves.
The editors curated these prayer poems and songs intentionally. They grouped some Psalms together to draw the praying person’s attention to the movement of emotions and circumstances. Always, it seems their hope is that we would use the Psalms to accompany us in our honest conversations with God.
So what is this about the Psalms of Hallel?
Hallel connects us to the English word hallelujah. Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that combines “hallelu” (praise) and “Jah” (Yahweh, God).
Hallelujah can be used as a single word that means “I praise God” or “We praise God.” It is a word that has the subject (I/we/you) and the verb (praise God or praise the Lord) all in the same word. Some languages are “fancy” in their ability to combine the subject and the verb in a single word.
What does it mean to praise God?
Praising God is something we can do in so many different ways. From the small gratitude practices that detail our daily experiences, to retelling the big stories of God’s intervention in our histories, we can say “Thank you!” and “Praise God!” We can sing our thank yous or write the experiences of our lifetimes. In the process we can become thankful.
Sometimes we feel thankful. Other times, we simply speak, sing, and write our gratitude until our feelings shift. And we don’t have to be thankful for everything. We just need to keep looking for God’s presence with us in everything so that we can be thankful for relationship with God despite our circumstances.
And how might the Psalms of Hallel fit into my spiritual practice?
This series of psalms, the Psalms of Hallel (Psalm 113 to 118), are often recited as part of important Hebrew celebrations and retell classic stories of divine intervention. As part of the repeating cycle of celebrating the passing of the seasons, movement, and life, these Psalms can be prayed together. Weaving together the big picture of God’s work in history with our own histories allows us to pay attention to our experiences of God at work in our lives.
In fact, it seems likely that Jesus joined his followers in singing this set of Psalms on the night that we think of as “Maundy Thursday” (Jesus’ last Passover). Even as the storms of conflict and violence swirled around Jesus, he sang with his community, “No one is like the Lord our God, who rules from heaven, who bends down to look at the skies and the earth. The Lord lifts the poor from the dirt and takes the helpless from the ashes” (Psalm 113:7 NCV).
In your spiritual practice try:
- Read all six of these Psalms, in a row, out loud. As you read, take note of what sparkles or rankles as you read.
- Listen to someone else read these Psalms for you. Our podcast episodes, Psalms of Hallel Playlist on our YouTube channel, or a nearby human can read to you. When you aren’t looking at the words on the page, are there different things that surface in your awareness?
- Pick a few favourite phrases or verses. Then write them out for yourself and include your name in them. If this process captures your imagination, start with Psalm 113 and over the process of days/weeks/months copy these Psalms out by hand. As you work through the verses and experience them with your name in them, I wonder what you will notice?
- Extend your prayer practice with some creativity. Consider creating a prayer mandala or writing the verses in your own words (paraphrasing is the base of Jennifer’s 2021 book We Love Your Invitations: A Psalm 119 Paraphrase). If physical movement and dance appeal to you, express yourself in a dance.
What if the Psalms of Hallel make me uncomfortable?
It’s possible that in the grand celebration, you might encounter uncomfortable “stuff” (a highly technical term, I know!). Are there uncomfortable emotions? Stories from your life that plague you? Questions about God or your experiences that emerge?
Finally, if your experience of the Psalms, in general, or the Psalms of Hallel specifically, stir up your “stuff,” you are invited to consider Spiritual Direction as a support. Jennifer has been a Spiritual Director and Associate Spiritual Care Practioner since 2015 and regularly makes space for complementary Exploration meetings. Within 15 minutes we can usually tell whether the services we offer might be a good fit for you. And then you can take some time to consider whether you want to enter into a Spiritual Direction relationship.
Are you interested in more information about the Psalms of Hallel?
As part of our podcast “Faith at Home,” Reade and Jennifer Holtslander have recorded the Psalms of Hallel. We talk together about what we notice as we listen to the Psalms in our Listening Practices. Take some time to soak these recordings up and let us know what stands out to you.
- The Psalms of Hallel start with Psalm 113
- and move on to Psalm 114
- leading to Psalm 115
- and then Psalm 116.
- The very shortest Psalm is Psalm 117,
- and then Psalm 118 Part 1 is long enough
- that we need a second chance Psalm 118 Part 2
If you would like to explore an overview of the Psalms of Hallel, you can check out the Psalms of Hallel wiki article.