One of America’s most popular inspirational voices—Peter Wallace of the Day1 radio network—talks with us about his new book on Psalms, “Connected.” (Use the Amazon link below to buy a copy.)
But that’s not all! Today, we’re also renewing a friendship with German photographer Michael Seufer. (A photo by Michael graces the cover of Peter’s new book and Michael is allowing us to use small samples from his wonderfully inspirational photography. Our longtime readers may recall a story about Michael last year.)
Peter has written 8 books and this one follows his style of daily inspirational reading. “Connected” is 90 chapters on 90 Psalms. It’s a terrific book for the millions of us who have been reading Psalms all our lives.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR CONVERSATION WITH PETER:
DAVID: Let’s start by telling people a little bit about your own life, Peter. You’re 54, you live in Atlanta and you run the Day1 radio network nationally. Describe the radio network for us.
PETER: We call ourselves the voice of mainline Protestant churches. We’re on about 200 radio stations; most of them are in the U.S. and a few are overseas.
DAVID: What are some of the denominations you work with?
PETER: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship—the moderate kind of Jimmy Carter Baptist churches. We work with others, too. On July 5, we’ve got Dr. Robert Franklin, the president of Morehouse and he’s ordained by the Church of God in Christ.
DAVID: You’re ordained, too, aren’t you?
PETER: I am ordained. It was some years ago in an independent Bible church. But I’ve ended up Episcopalian now.
DAVID: You’ve written quite a few inspirational books. Tell us about your last books.
PETER: “Living Loved” came out two years ago. And, I wrote “Out of the Quiet,” another devotional book drawn from scriptures. “Out of the Quiet” looked at scriptures that were all in the imperative—God or Jesus speaking to us and either inviting us or commanding us or challenging us. For example, one was “Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden.” And I wrote about the 10 Commandments. Passages like that.
DAVID: This new book “Connected” is a fascinating next step in your work, because it flips around that theme, doesn’t it? You devoted “Out of the Quiet” to reflecting on God talking to us as humans. This new book focuses on Psalms. That’s the one major collection in the Bible of human voices crying out to God. You’ve completely reversed the spiritual perspective this time.
PETER: You know I hadn’t thought about it quite that way. But, yes, I love that about the Psalms. These are people talking to God in brutally honest ways. Whether the particular Psalm has a positive or negative tone, they are visceral, bodily expressions of how people are feeling in that moment. The Psalms are full of our grief, our anger, our joy.
All of the emotions we can feel—you’ll find them somewhere in Psalms. As I was working on this book, I found myself discovering emotions I didn’t even realize I was feeling until I connected with the expression in Psalms.
DAVID: Your new book’s Foreword is written by another popular writer we’ve recommended to readers: Greg Garrett. (Here’s a link to a sample we published from Greg’s latest book.)
In Greg’s Foreword, there’s this great story about a grad student in a class he was teaching. The student very confidently tried to tell him that the Psalms weren’t for her. “I’ve lived a really happy life. Nothing bad has ever happened to me. I’ve never felt persecuted, or hopeless, or near death.”
Greg replied to her: “Okay. … Enjoy it while you can.”
The truth in that story is that suffering isn’t “bad luck.” Buddhists emphasize this spiritual truth in the very beginning of their teaching: Suffering is a natural part of life. Not all of the Psalms are about suffering, but many of them are.
PETER: I thought Greg’s story was great! I wrote an earlier book about Psalms almost 15 years ago now. And, even in my own life, I can look back over those 15 years, think about everything that’s happened in that time—and, just like Greg, I could tell that happy young student: “Enjoy it while you can!”
DAVID: People have been singing the Psalms for thousands of years! Our world has changed dramatically but the human condition—our spiritual lives—haven’t changed that much.
PETER: That’s exactly right. It’s fascinating to me that these ancient songs are still so fresh. Some things may have changed since the Psalms were written. We may not have “armies encamping” around us these days—or wait! I guess we do have armies encamped, don’t we?
DAVID: You’re right. In many parts of the world—armies are encamped. This is a universal songbook. Timeless, really. In your book, you talk about how each Psalm connects with your own life in the 21st century.
PETER: I try to use my own experiences to raise the questions a friend would ask: When suffering comes, do you just wilt? Or, do you try to understand it? Do you seek God’s wisdom? The Psalms help us to get away from this idea that “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” The truth is: People have known trouble for thousands of years.
DAVID: We’ve been talking a lot about suffering and trouble—and I don’t want readers to get the impression that your book is a “downer.” I think it’s also a lot of fun, enjoying the Psalms in this fresh way with you serving as a friendly companion.
Connection with the larger world is a serious thing. We just published a story about a Japanese religious sect that became so isolated, the group wound up in a deadly situation. The members allowed their guru to do terrible things—including his orders to release poison gas on Japanese trains. A dozen people died; a thousand were injured. The guru now is in prison, but these two documentary films about the group emphasize how much people need to remain connected with the larger world.
Your book makes the same point, I think.
PETER: It’s so easy to move into deeper and deeper levels of isolation. Then, the isolation leads to all sorts of troubling acts. You can become stuck that way even within a faith community.
It’s important in life not only to maintain yourself physically, but also maintain your spiritual and intellectual health. It’s important to keep active, to keep growing and learning. It’s important to make those outward connections.
DAVID: That’s a message right out of Psalm 90, one of my favorites in your book. The Psalm begins in despair about the shortness of life. But it ends with a prayer that God will help us properly appreciate the precious days we have here on earth—and that God will “prosper the work of our hands,” that God will help us find meaning in our daily lives.
PETER: It says we should “number our days.” The challenge is how to do that. You can just mark off days until life’s over—or you can live each day to its fullness. When you live like that, you begin to see new opportunities in life to reach out to others and learn new things. We can experience different places, different cultures.
DAVID: We might read something or see something that stretches our spiritual imagination. In that Psalm 90 chapter, you manage to work in your own lifelong interest in science fiction, for example.
PETER: Yes, I’m a fan of Star Trek and science fiction. Science fiction stretches us and makes us think about life in new ways. I’m also reading new things all the time. I’m just reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, “An Altar in the World.”
DAVID: We just published an interview with Barbara about that new book.
PETER: I like what she has to say about vocation. She says that we should try to find pleasure in our work, whatever that may be. I’m reading that chapter right now. She says that it became clear to her that God doesn’t necessarily have one single thing for us to do in life.
God has many things we can do. God wants us to live full lives. She lists all the different things she’s done throughout her life, including one time that she worked as a cocktail waitress. And she says: Whatever we do, we should do it fully.
DAVID: Now we’re back to Psalm 90, I would say. “Prosper the work of our hands,” the Psalm says. It’s not a plea to God to magically place us in some great job. It’s a plea to help us find meaning in the work that we do each day.
PETER: That’s what Psalms are about—people reaching out and connecting, again and again, with God.
(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)