Wednesday, May 20, 2009

stories, textbooks, and iambic pentameter

Whatever you read, chances are there's a genre you like and a genre you don't.

For me, I love a good story, especially if it's set in the past or the future. I have to admit, I also love reading textbooks that neatly arrange concepts in a logical way (Yes, yes I do!). These two facts are probably why studying theology (so much history, so many concepts) appeals to me so much. I even enjoy reading recipes, if not always making them.

But poetry's often escaped me. There's a few poets I like (ee cummings and Leonard Cohen for instance). However, as a whole there's not too much in iambic pentameter or other rhythms that floor me.

And as it does for many, this transfers into how I find myself reading the varios books and many genres of the Bible. Historical narrative? Good stuff. Letters? I can enjoy those. Even Leviticus, the ancient law code of the Hebrew peoples, is fascinating to me - both in how it mimics other law codes and shows significant moral progression (the value it places on women, for one). I LOVE that stuff. Wisdom literature? Bring it. Even the fairly-new genre of apocalypse found in Daniel and Revelation... I can sift through that and understand it as a genre and as a book.

But not being a poetry person, Psalms often falls right off my radar. And I know... how could it? So many people find Psalms amazing. But for some reason, this beautiful example of Hebrew poetry, by turns didactic and lyric, filled with beautiful craft and complex structure, metaphor and imagery... it often leaves me cold.

But as I've done a few times before, I gave it a go this past month. Generally I read in whole books - all of Ephesians, or all of Proverbs, etc. a few chapters at a time. I read five chapters a day on the way to work, and I gave it a break last week then finished it off today. I read it mostly in the NIV translation (a good balance of word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation), and partially in the Message which was undertaken as a paraphrase, though translated directly from Hebrew and Greek (and the bits of Aramaic scattered through some books).

And I find myself starting to get it. Not that it often elicits an emotional response, or that I really find myself studying the exact structure. I've done that in the past and appreciated the craft put into it. But I think I've let it speak to me a little more than in the past. And using the Message paraphrase allows me to break away from the familiar words and see it in different terms.. and it's been good. I've also been listening to Jess Cantelon, and many of his songs are based on the Psalms, which has been helpful as well.

Being able to finish with Psalm 146 was excellent, especially given some of the things I like. On the one hand, I see the need and value of building up concrete things and making good investments, building good cities and environments. As always though, investing in people will invariable give results that outlast any of those.

Hallelujah! O my soul, praise God!
All my life long I'll praise God,
singing songs to my God as long as I live.

Don't put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don't have what it takes;
when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob, put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil, sea and all the fish in it.

He always does what he says—
he defends the wronged, he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners— he gives sight to the blind, he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
takes the side of orphans and widows, but makes short work of the wicked.

God's in charge—always.
Zion's God is God for good! Hallelujah!

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