Friday, January 7, 2011

God's poetry

Over the course of my life, I've spent a whole lot of time in classrooms.  And having an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies as well as a degree from a seminary, it will surprise no one that I've have taken plenty of classes in which the Bible was the subject.  However, it might surprise (and amuse!) you to learn that the first academic class in which I studied the Bible was called, "The Bible as Literature" at Washington State University, and was taught by (I promised I'm not making this up) Dr. Lord.  Yep. Picture the course listing in the university catalogue: "Bible as Lit" taught by Lord.  I honestly couldn't resist.  It was a good class too, for all that Dr. Lord, despite his high-falutin' name, was an agnostic at best, definitely skeptical.  There was one specific concept that was new to me in that class that has remained with me ever since.  It's the idea of "the faithful remnant".  Both in the Old Testament, the gospels, and even in my own life, I've seen how many believe of that many, only a small portion, a remnant, remains faithful, returns to give thanks, etc.

But the other part of that class that helped me greatly came from directly from having studied scripture in all its various forms as the wonderful literature it is.  For example, much of scripture is poetry and poetry works best when it floods a person with images and sense words.  Take the Psalms, for example.  Dissecting a Psalm as one might a frog in biology class takes all the life from it, without actually uncovering what gave that Psalm life to begin with. 

There are plenty of places within scripture which lend themselves to scientific investigation and analysis.  Take Numbers and Leviticus, for instance (Please, take them!!!), with enough lists and mandates to satisfy  the most anal of exegetes.  And the histories--1, 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles--a historian could spend his life researching the battles, journeys, work of the kings of this people of God.  Or the prophets, where there are enough enigmatic utterances to keep a philosopher and linguist busy for years. And yes, I'll gladly accede the language to the linguists as well.  With all those texts of the New Testament, the varying styles of the writers, the  various bits of actual texts we pull our one Bible from, I understand the need to study and study some more.  And the perplexing words of Jesus--even I will spend my life trying to make sense of Him.  Of course I will.

But the Psalms...I am reminded of the moment in "Dead Poets Society" when Robin Williams makes his literature class rip the pages from their textbook that lay out a grid to measure a poem's success.  It's B.S., excrement, to reduce such emotionally-charged language to a grid, devaluing the writer and ourselves. Let poetry wash over us, let it transform us as we dwell with it.   Let the Psalms, God's great poetry, set right in the middle of all that Old Testament prose, work in image, cadence and form to draw us to the great poet Himself.

When we do this, we enter in to what a Psalm really is:  a personal or corporate response to God, ie, a PRAYER, and therefore, is something to be immersed in.  Rather than dissecting it, we must fall into it and allow it to cover us, work through our skin to our deepest selves.   My prayers alone are so often not enough, but the Psalms fill up my empty spaces where I need to speak to God but have no words.  The best of, the best of His poetry fills in very well.

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