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Temple and Tartan: Psalms, poetry and Scotland by Jock Stein

by
05 May 2023

Ian Bradley on a poetic minister of the Kirk

JOCK STEIN, a retired Church of Scotland minister, took up writing verse only at the age of 70. He is really rather good at it. His latest book is made up of poems based on the psalms. They are not paraphrases, but contemporary reflections, suggested by particular verses and themes.

The results are arresting. The question at the beginning of Psalm 13 (“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?”) triggers these lines: “I’m beating God, upon your door. / I screw my eyes to read your lips / But I am shaken to the core / By Covid, climate and what’s more / You’ve morphed into a God who sleeps / When I would worship and adore.”

The closing words of Psalm 20 (“O Lord, save the King”) provoke the response: “God save the king — or maybe queen”. / Have we no republican psalms, / No hint that what’s aye been / Might be a changing scene?”

As the above suggests, the tone of many of the poems is radical, and they have a distinctly Scottish flavour, both in language and theme. There is a whole section based on comparisons between Robert the Bruce and the Israelite King David.

Stein acknowledges his debt to others who have based poems on the psalms, including the Church Times’s Malcolm Guite. His own approach is more consciously contemporary: he makes reference to laptops, fake news, and climate change, along with Bono, Malala, and even Jimmie Shand. There is more than a touch, too, of R. S. Thomas in his musings on the absent God and his take on Psalm 82 in a section, “Migrants”, in which, in respect of the Highland Clearances, he writes that “God failed.” Detailed and helpful commentaries contribute to making this a stimulating and challenging collection that could be profitably used in Bible-study groups and, indeed, in worship.
 

The Revd Dr Ian Bradley is Emeritus Professor of Cultural and Spiritual History at the University of St Andrews.

 

Temple and Tartan: Psalms, poetry and Scotland
Jock Stein
Handsel Press £16*
(978-1-912052-74-5)
*from handselpress.org.uk

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