Sunday, February 20, 2011

what it is to reflect.

I've just started reading 'The Idea of Biblical Poetry' by James L. Kugel, which has been sitting on my bookshelf from the library for a few weeks. I've only read nine pages into the first chapter, but the thought is quite cool and I'd love to share a little part.

Kugel is writing about how often in biblical poetry, each line is made up of two parts- with a pause between. Instead of any set poetic metre or things such as rhyme or alliteration, this form is what the Hebrew ear expected from poetry. The theme of this book is the way that there is often a relationship between the two parts, where the second half will either repeat part of the first or reflect its ideas/voice, as in Psalm 94:
God of retribution, Lord / God of retribution, appear! //
Rise up, earth's ruler / give the arrogant their due //
How long shall the wicked, Lord / how long shall the wicked rejoice? //
They brag, speak arrogance / all the evil-doers do act haughtily //

This draws the imagery and the heart of what is written in a unique and expressive way, whether you notice it or not. Even the writers might hardly have noticed; it was culturally inherent.

Rather than simply mirroring or copying the first part in the second, though, there is something more significant held in the intuitive meaning of this form. Kugel rightly mentions how the listener would understand a build-up. The first part of the line is a truth in its own right, but it's also there to set the stage for something more: "A is so, and what's more, B is so."

I love this paragraph:
The medial pause all too often has been understood to represent a kind of "equals" sign. It is not; it is a pause, a comma, and the unity of the two parts should not be lost for their division. Indeed, its true character might be more graphically symbolised by a double arrow-
All your works praise you Lord <--> and your faithful ones bless you
for it is the dual nature of B both to come after A and thus add to it, often particularizing, defining, or expanding the meaning, and yet also to harken back to A and in an obvious way connect to it. One might say that B has both retrospective (looking back to A) and prospective (looking beyond it) qualities.

So amazing how God taught these people, within their culture, to know who He is within a context of worship. Even its poetic form is so aware of the goodness of God that is all through creation. There's a beautiful relationship between what is seen first, and what these things point to; things that are less become precious by holding His image. What comes now is caught up in what it will become later. Rather than discarding things or forgetting His servants, God delights in perfecting and glorifying. It's the nature of things :)

This feels like a glimpse of what it means for us as well to be part of the glory of God. Surrendering to this gives us His rest. His light over-illuminates ours, but in undeserved love His fire also points back to, always brightens, our own.

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