Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Other Side (of Delight)

"Delight the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." Ps. 37:4

Gandalf hears drums in the Psalms.
Parallelism in the Psalms is not just a device used within verses; it can also inform a psalm's entire structure (or part of it). Take Psalm 1, for example: six verses set into two three verse parts contrasting "the godly" with "the wicked". Psalm 37 is another example, at least in the beginning. The commands to "trust," "delight," "commit," and "rest" in God are complimentary parallels meant to bounce off of and build on each other. Furthermore, as compliments to each other, they are also meant to be synonymous, a singular note swelling in intensity, like heavier and heavier beats of a drum.

Yet the synonymous nature of these four words is not completely apparent, at least as it is translated in English. Part of it makes sense: to "trust" something is to "commit" to and "rest" in it, and to "commit" to something (lit. in Heb: "to roll your load onto another") is to "trust" and "rest" in it, and to "rest" in something (like a bed or chair) is to "trust" in and "commit" to it. In each case, the meaning of the words play off of each other naturally, like mirrors reflecting the same sunbeam.

Just imagine a logistical gymnast.
But what about "delight"? It does not seem to fit quite so easily. Of course, it is still a positive term like the others, and we could reasonably imagine it following any one of the others: it is possible to "delight" in what you "commit" to and "trust" and "rest" in. Nonetheless, it does not necessarily follow them. To "trust" or "commit" or "rest" in something does not necessarily mean you "delight" in it. Your attitude towards the chair you are trusting and resting in may be quite neutral, and there are probably commitments you've made (to some chore or work or duty) that you can't say you're looking forward to. In fact, "trust" and "commit" can be occasions for fear as much as anything else, for they always contain a level of uncertainty, as when you trust your friend when he or she says the food they suggested for you is "not that spicy." Thus, the connection between "trust" and "commit" and "rest" is natural and easy, but the connection between them and "delight" is not; it requires some logistical gymnastics.

"Simply delightful..."
But perhaps we're missing something. Perhaps (as I said before) English is incapable of fully capturing the exactest meaning, which is not unheard of: it is not as rich a language as ancient Hebrew (or even modern Japanese). Its limitations are no mark against it, for limitations can be an occasion for glory as well as shame, for opportunity as much as disadvantage. The point here is that we are in fact dealing with a slight limitation. The Hebrew word used here that English translates as "delight" is not one of the typical Hebrew words for it, not one that carries all the typical meanings: to be glad in or take joy in or find pleasure in, etc. Rather, the Hebrew word here is "anog," which literally means "to become soft or delicate." The image it suggests is melting, like solid strips of cheese melting onto bread, or a cube of ice melting in a glass. The implication is relaxation: of molecules loosening their bonds, of breath exhaling from a body that's sinking into a couch after a long day's work, with all its muscles releasing their tension.

Now the connection is clearer and easier, for you cannot "commit" to something, nor truly "trust" in something, and certainly not "rest" in something, without this sense of ease, of relaxation, of losing the grip of your anxieties and laying your head down in gentle repose. The whole of life may be buzzing around you like angry hornets, but you are quiet and still in God. This is the other side of "delight," the other side of its ecstasy and joy, for this is the ecstasy and joy of being still and knowing that He is God.

Into the calm of delight.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2014

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