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First-Ever Psalm Festival Set for October
September 12, 2005

Calvin College will present a unique way to experience the book of Psalms on October 15.

Starting at 5 pm that day the college will offer a chance to meditate on all 150 of the Old Testament's psalms through readings, songs, visual arts and more as part of its first-ever Psalm Festival.

The event is expected to last eight to ten hours!

Calvin's Laura Smit is chairing the committee that has spent the past year getting ready for the event.

She says she hopes that Calvin's event on October 15 will help those who participate experience the Psalms in new ways and will deepen their appreciation for what she thinks is a critical book of the Bible for the church throughout the ages.

"The Psalms are the prayer book of the church," she says, "and if we are to be people of prayer, we need to learn the psalms. More specifically, we need to learn how to pray the psalms."

Smit adds that singing the psalms, which will happen with some regularity at Calvin's Psalm Festival, also is an essential part of the Calvin's Reformed tradition in worship.

And she believes the marathon nature of the Psalm Festival adds an important extra dimension to the study, one that would not be present so significantly were Calvin to stretch out its study of the Psalms over a longer period of time, say weeks or months.

"When we consider any other book of the Bible, we probably all see that context matters," she says. "We see that a passage should never be studied without some attention being paid to what comes before and what comes after. But with the psalms we are often inclined to treat them as self-contained little units, rather than understanding the coherent sweep of the psalter as a whole. Spending the night with the psalms is a way to experience that totality, and many psalms that are confusing or troubling when read alone are suddenly illuminated when prayed in context."

To get ready for the event Calvin's organizing committee sponsored a contest intended to bring to the evening new songs, poems, videos, dances and images.

Says Smit: "Throughout Christian history, people have made the psalms their own by setting them to music or paraphrasing them in contemporary language. We wanted to continue that tradition, so we sponsored a contest for new psalm settings in various art forms. The Psalm Festival will include new poetry, film, dance, visual art and music."

Smit notes that the logistics for the Festival are "rather daunting" since the event includes a multitude of participants, including musical groups such as Capella, Campus Choir, Meistersingers, Lyric Singers and chapel bands as well as dramatic reading teams, solo readers and dance groups.

Smit says simply: "We'll begin at 5 o'clock and keep going until we're finished."

She notes that the Calvin dining halls are going to make arrangement to allow on-campus students to get dinner a little early that night, so that they won't have to choose between food and psalms. And there will be three breaks throughout the evening when there will be water, coffee and snacks available in the Chapel Undercroft.

"There's no obligation to come for the entire event," she says. "Even though many people are looking forward to being there from beginning to end, we recognize that some people will be coming and going throughout the night."