Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Late night thoughts on rereading Psalm 46

Psalm 46 is a favorite among Anglican choirs with its three-fold chorus traditionally sung to unison and descant. The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. But there are not three chrouses, only two. The Anglicans have turned a bi-centred poem into a sequential thought process. The first chorus is represented by 'Selah' only. It is very tempting to add the chorus, but it obscures the double centre of the piece. The first opening brackets are in the word sequence: earth-moved-murmuring - with centre in 'she shall not be moved' - and the closing brackets are in reverse: murmuring-moved-earth. The second centre is between the two sequences: nations-earth-chorus - with centre at the Lord's doings - then nations-earth-chorus.

John Hobbins has much more to teach us about the structure - but our success as learners and his as teacher depends on our understanding the superscripts and subscripts of his annotations. I hope I can learn what he means and morph the codes into a visual representation. I have to admit it is not a short term goal. My original draft of this poem, done in September 2006, was among my first 4 or 5 psalms, an early part of this bootstrap process. Now, almost a year later, I can begin to read and appreciate the colometry which John's version engages with such fluidity. Like Secundus, I was deaf to the word and needed visual aids to teach me. Now I have a limited feel for the sounds though I cannot hear or read them with fluency. I took the liberty of collecting John's translation into a diagram showing the Hebrew and English together.

As I lay awake in the early morning, I thought about the words I fought with back in September - שַׁמּוֹת בָּאָרֶץ - (shmot b'aretz). The Anglican psalter has the lovely - what wonders he has wrought upon the earth. But the word is unmistakeably desolations. I mistranslated it as fertility(!) - and often have thought of the fruitfulness that comes out of the desolation of the cross. But will the word stretch to its opposite? There appears to be no justification for my earlier thought in any dictionary I can find even though the three cola following the statement are all works of peace. Let's have Anglican chant for the briefest of translations capturing the shortness of the twos and threes of the Hebrew:
who makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth

the bow he breaks
the spear he snaps
wagons he burns in fire.
But it is the double use of the verb 'to lift up' that further grabs my attention. Traditionally this verb is translated as 'exalted' - I will be exalted among the nations and I will be exalted in the earth. Now there's a good religious word. John has 'stands above'. I chose lift up because of the desolation of the Anointed having been lifted up from the earth for me, among all those that fear him.

I know I am in danger of reading this Christologically - but I am following in the footsteps of the NT writers. In Hebrews, the entire dialogue between the Father and the Son is taken from the Psalter. What is the dialogue between the Father and the Son in this Psalm? Or what works of the Lord are being referred to that really make a difference? Does Psalm 46 stand behind John 5? If you do not believe me, at least believe the works that the Father has given me to do (John 10:22 referring back to the issue of witness in John 5). Clearly, I can ask anyone who would ask me concerning the Messianic age, why war has not ceased. The psalmist has said it is done and bids us to look to the work of YHWH in the doing of it. The required 2 and 3 witnesses are in the microstructures of the poem.

1 comment:

Beyond Words said...

Thanks for giving me so much to ponder.