Scholar Fridays is a series on Bearings Online where we feature 2018-19 Resident Scholars. Susan Sink recently interviewed Kris Kvam, who is the Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kansas, about her project titled Wonders and Woes: The Psalms in Communal and Personal Voicings. To view previous Scholar Friday interviews, click here.
Briefly tell us about your project. How are you exploring the psalms?
I have titled my sabbatical project: “Wonder and Woe: The Psalms in Communal and Personal Voicings.” I intend to bring to fruition my work on the Psalms for Westminster John Knox Press’s Belief series. An exciting—and controversial—feature of this series is the decision by its editors to ask theologians to write biblical commentaries. My scholarship was formed by studying at the intersection of Biblical studies and Christian theology. I had stood at this nexus when I wrote my STM thesis on Sophia and Christology (with Sister Margaret Farley as my advisor). I also stood there when I wrote my dissertation on Martin Luther’s understanding of Eve and Adam.
As Bill Placher and I talked about the project, I was struck by his sense that it would be a kind of experiment—to see what would happen to the theologians who would be shaped by deep immersion in the worlds of biblical texts and the scholarship that surrounds them.
When Bill first called years ago, I said I had no preference for which biblical book I would be assigned. I am grateful that I was assigned to write on the Psalms and to do so with my teacher and friend, theologian Don Saliers. My study of the Psalter has led me to new understandings of the biblical witness and the Christian life. My collaboration with Don Saliers has helped me attend to matters of hymnody and liturgy, including the ways that psalm texts shift their meanings according to where they are placed within the church’s liturgical calendar.
A primary interest of yours seems to be feminist/womanist theology. Does this psalm project fit into that work?
The structure of the Belief commentaries combine the traditional format of commenting sequentially on a biblical book with some creative twists. One of these twists is a genre entitled “Further Reflections;” these short essays consider doctrinal and theological themes that relate to the book’s outlook and wording. After struggling at first to write commentary on all 150 psalms together, Don Saliers and I decided to split the work differently. He is writing the text commentary and I am writing the “Further Reflections,” and contributing in other ways to the apparatus of the book. That has allowed me more focus on some of my academic interests.
My project’s subtitle, “The Psalms in Communal and Personal Voicings,” signals ways that my Further Reflection essays attend to voices and topics related to diverse communities. For example, my essay on “Feminist Perspectives Matter” opens with the assessments of the Psalms in the first feminist biblical commentary in the United States, The Woman’s Bible, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her coworkers edited in 1898. These Further Reflections explore contemporary issues with an eye to ways that the psalms can bring to voice our personal and communal fears and angers, our longings and hopes.
Are you participating in Liturgy of the Hours at Saint John’s Abbey and at Saint Benedict’s Monastery? How is that experience contributing to your current work?
It has been a wonderful gift to become part of a community where the psalter shapes the way that we come together.
Participating in morning prayer at Saint John’s Abbey has been an important facet of my life as a Resident Scholar. It has been a wonderful gift to become part of a community where the psalter shapes the way that we come together. Prior to being here, I had known about the importance of the psalms for monastic life, especially because of my work in Luther studies. My time at Collegeville Institute has allowed that knowledge to move from my head to my bones in that I have been able to become immersed in the psalter by reciting, singing, and praying several psalms on a daily basis.
Have you had any “ecumenical moments” with other scholars since you’ve been here? How has your experience been of the community at the Collegeville Institute?
The ecumenical model called “reconciled diversity” has long informed my vision and practice. Earlier in my career I was honored to be asked by Lutheran World Federation to serve as a Lutheran member of the Lutheran—Roman Catholic Commission on Unity, the international bilateral dialog between Roman Catholics and Lutherans as well as on the national dialog between these two churches.
These experiences prepared me for being an active ecumenist amid the confessional and religious plurality of this semester’s Resident Scholars. We have lived into a form of reconciled diversity by the Collegeville Institute’s commitment and invitation for each of us to stand within our own particular faith tradition as we open our seminars with prayer and reflection. For example, one of our Catholic scholars who has been shaped by Ignatian spirituality led us through an Examen when it was her turn to offer the opening meditation. I have been grateful for opportunities like these to be invited into the practices of another’s religious home.
Your first book was an edited collection of texts and scholarship on the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. If you could visit with any scholar from any period of time to discuss this text, who would it be? Why?
I am so intrigued by the many ways that Luther insisted that God intended for Eve to be equal to Adam.
This is such a great question. I have had to think long and hard about it because the Eve and Adam anthology offers so many possible conversation partners in its survey of ways the story of the first man and first woman has been interpreted in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam across time and space. Yet Martin Luther emerges as the one scholar for whom I have the most questions. This is not because I am a Lutheran. Rather it is because I am so intrigued by the many ways that Luther insisted that God intended for Eve to be equal to Adam. Of course, there are times that he characterizes her as being Adam’s subordinate, but I know of no other Christian in the premodern era who so often criticized traditions that portrayed Eve as created to be subordinate to Adam. It would be so interesting to talk with Luther about these matters along with his characterization of Eve as a saint.