Ah, Holy Jesus

In his talk at Psalm Tap last week, Aaron Tripp walked us through Robert Bridges’s translation of “Haerzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen,” better known as “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended?” Watch his talk here.

Of course, excited as I was, I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out that the last line of each stanza, set side by side, form a summary of the Gospel.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
God interceded.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.

Lyrics from here

O, most afflicted! I crucified thee. God interceded for my salvation — not my deserving.

Writing on the Right Side of the Brain

I’m really enjoying Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I’ve even done some of the exercises, and as far as I can tell, they are extremely effective. I get drawing in a way I never have before. (When I was fourteen or so, a friend told me that the key to drawing was to pretend that what you saw was a flat surface. At the time, I was convinced she was cheating — that real artists were constantly aware of 3D space, but as it turns out, she was right.)

Edwards’ main point is that we use our left brain (logical and verbal) to recognize objects around us without actually seeing them. To do this quickly, we catalogue objects according to certain traits and skip over the details. That’s fine for getting through life, but when we try to reproduce what you see on a piece of paper, we fall back those traits and communicate them symbolically. For example, a stick figure is recognizable as a person, but it doesn’t really look like a person at all. It’s a symbol.

Edwards teaches her students to turn off their left brains and look at objects without mentally categorizing them. (I posted one of her exercises here.) When they get into what she calls “R-mode” (right brain), they experience a sort of altered state of consciousness. Here’s how she describes some of its characteristics:

First, there is a seeming suspension of time. You are not aware of time in the sense of marking time. Second, you pay no attention to spoken words. You may hear the sounds of speech, but you do not decode the sounds into meaningful words. If someone speaks to you, it seems as thought it would take a great effort to cross back, think again in words, and answer. Furthermore, whatever you are doing seems immensely interesting. You are attentive and concentrated and feel “at one” with the thing you are concentrating on. You feel energized but calm, active without anxiety. You feel self-confident and capable of doing the task at hand. Your thinking is not in words but in images and, particularly while drawing, you thinking is “locked on” to the object you are perceiving. On leaving R-mode state, you do not feel tired, but refreshed.

My drawing ability is mediocre, but I do recognize what she’s describing. I’ve experienced it most often when editing video. I would become completely locked in and work for hours, barely moving. I’ve heard coders describe the same thing.

What I find most fascinating about this passage, though, is how it applies to writing. When I’m fully engaged in writing, I lose track of time. When someone talks to me, I pay no attention. (I have strong memories of my dad doing the same thing when I was a child.) I am attentive, concentrated, confident, and capable. The one thing that does not match up with my experience writing is that Edwards describes this state as “not thinking in words.” In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of R-mode. You put aside verbal processing in order to see things “as they are.”

How is it possible that writing, which is by definition a verbal activity (you’d think), can shift someone into R-mode, which is partially defined by a lack of verbal processing? I don’t know, but, a few pages later, Edwards includes this quote from Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”:

In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning clear as one can through pictures or sensations.

I have never considered this, but I think Orwell is right. And it occurs to me that this is what poets do all the time. They consider pictures or sensations and, instead of using symbols (Edwards’ term) or the existing dialect (Orwell’s), they hunt for words that communicate as closely as possible what they are actually seeing or perceiving in the world around them.

More Advent poetry

God tries on skin
by Marjorie Maddox Phifer

Once, he stretched skin over spirit
like a rubber glove,
aligning trinity with bone,
twining through veins
until deity square-knotted flesh.

In a whirlwind spin
he shrank to the size of a zygote,
bobbed in a womb warm as Galilee’s shore.

In the dark,
he brushed up on Hebrew,
practiced his crawl.

After months scrunched in a circle,
he burst through his cellophane sac,
bloodied the teen legs
spread on the straw.

In his first breath
he inhaled the sweat
of Romans casting lots,
sniffed the wine mixed with gall.

Tim Keller and Poetry

A few weeks ago, I finished Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. His practical knowledge, gained over many years of talking to atheists, really shines, especially on things philosophical and historical (and matters categorical). On the other hand, his perception of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is dim. His sympathy with evolution and old-earth creationism appears in several places throughout the book, but one argument stuck out to me, since it was purportedly based on the Bible itself.

In a nutshell, Keller argues that Genesis 1-2 follows the pattern of Exodus 14-15 and Judges 4-5. In both the latter passages, the author relates a historical event, then follows it with a song recounting the same thing in poetic form. The exodus from Egypt is followed by the Song of Miriam, while the battle with the Midianites is accompanied by the Song of Deborah.

According to Keller, this is what’s happening in the first two chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1 is a poetic treatment of Creation. Genesis 2 is the real deal. The seven day thing is metaphorical. The real story begins in Chapter 2, verse 4, with what I suppose is an ancient Hebrew explanation of the Proterozoic period (a term I just learned from Wikipedia). There are several problems with this, which I’m sure many fine Christians have explained online. I’ll just point out two that occurred to me while I was reading.

  • First, if Keller is correct in thinking that Genesis 1-2 follows the same structure as Exodus 14-15 and Judges 4-5, wouldn’t Genesis 1 be the historical treatment and Genesis 2 the poetic one? History followed by poetry, right?
  • Second, the Bible does have poetic descriptions of Creation (Job 38, Psalm 33 et al., Proverbs 30), none of which resembles Genesis 1. If anything, Genesis 1 has the same spare style we see throughout most of the Old Testament books of history.

Any argument based on style supports the idea that Genesis 1 is, in fact, describing what actually happened.

Banishment as a Way of Life for a Man

Television is a product, not a medium, and everything you see and hear is produced by people terrified that they might be banished from the castle tomorrow and lose their limos and expense-account lunches and become peasants again, so there is mighty little courage or playfulness, as there is in poetry, which is entirely created by peasants, every word. Banishment is a way of life for poets, so what’s to be afraid of?

Garrison Keillor

HT Daniel S.