Prayers for the Road: Psalm Meditations for College Students

By Thomas W. Currie III
Geneva. 2000. 176 pp. Pb. $ 12.95. ISBN 0-664-50129

Reviewed by E. Allen Proctor Jr., Raleigh, N.C.


I expect devotional books to be sentimental and superficial, at best, and insipid at worst -- this book of meditations on the psalms by Thomas Currie is neither. Instead the reader will find here real theological depth and an authentic wrestling with issues of the spiritual life.

Currie writes as a pastor to a daughter of his congregation who is leaving home for the first time to go to college. He writes with a tone that is sometimes parental, but more often fraternal, respecting the maturity and integrity that many young adults possess at this critical stage of life.

Many of the themes addressed here are familiar to those who read and reflect on the Psalms: loneliness, despair, anxiety, the worship of God, grace, forgiveness and prayer. yet some of the best insights in the book come from Currie’s exegesis not of the text, but of contemporary American culture: individualism, affluence, consumerism and self-centeredness.

For example, I find Currie’s insights on Psalm 122 very compelling, not because he encourages us to attend church (“Let us go up to the house of the Lord,” but because of his poetically crafted observation of the secular culture that is content with Sunday mornings of “late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair.”

As a Reformed theologian, Currie sees the gospel of Christ woven into each of the psalms, and the Christ he portrays expects to be followed as well as worshiped. Many of these meditations begin with the promises of comfort offered by the psalmist, but move quickly to the life and death struggles of Christ’s call to discipleship.

“Following Jesus Christ brings us face to face with our own demons and those of our culture . . . ,” he writes. “The problem with so much Christianity today is that it is childish . . . . It wants Jesus, but does not want to have to . . . work in the church or reach out to one of the least of these. So we never grow up, because we never died. We remain stuck in a selfish and silly Christianity.”

Currie does not portray the faithful Christian life as a formula for happiness and success. Rather he holds high the cross of Christ and the challenge to each would-be disciple to take up that cross, with all of the attending costs of such an action. What such a discipleship can expect is not a life free of troubles, but rather a deep sense of satisfaction and joy in the midst of life’s struggles.

For Currie, the way to God (and the way back to God for those who have strayed) is through the community of faith and the worship of that community. It is impossible to be a person of faith without being joined to a whole community of people whose lives have been narrated by the story of faith. And the experience of worship is at the heart of that community.

“Worship is always useless. In fact, when we try to make it useful we pervert it,” he writes. “All worship is good for is love. All it is good for is delight. All it is good for is joy. Worship is a kind of wasting time with God . . . . All you can do is enjoy it.”

I was disappointed that Currie did not address our responsibility as disciples — not only to help those who have been victims of life’s injustices, but to seek to eliminate the causes of those injustices. Unlike much of what we find in the psalms, Currie’s theology tends to be oriented toward the therapeutic and the charitable, rather than justice. He encourages us to find “beauty” in the least of these, but not to fight for them in the arena of public policy.

As a preacher for the last 20 years, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the psalms have not often been the text for my sermons. But reading Currie’s reflections have stimulated for me a new interest in the psalms, not simply as a resource for personal reflection, but also as a vehicle for the proclamation of the gospel.