Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reviews and Books - the Popular and the Useful

Sometimes you are sitting on a rough-cut gem and not really making use of it. Sometimes a glass diamond glitters and you are captivated but the impact is short-lived. Sometimes you hold a rock which may be polished to a shine but does not reveal any depth.

From an old school copy of essays by Francis Bacon, I remember this advice:
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
There are many books but there is one you. There are many distractions but there is One who loves you and who wants to build you into the likeness of the Eternal. There are many others like you and like me who form this building, a temple suitable for the indwelling Spirit of the Most High.

It is not a simple thing to build this building. The One who teaches humanity knowledge is the One who builds and who knows the cost. The cost is in the cup of salvation, a cup prepared for the wicked to drink to the dregs (Psalm 75:9):
for there is a cup in the hand of YHWH
and the wine is red
full of mixture
and he spills from it
surely they will suck the dregs
all the wicked of the earth will imbibe

and yet it is drunk by the elect instead (Psalm 116:13):
the cup of salvation I will bear
so in the name of YHWH I will call

This word cup is the same as the word for owl, used in the prayer of Psalm 102:7
I am like an unclean bird of the wilderness
I have become like an owl of the desert

Here the cup is an image of the body, as in Psalm 23:5, where my cup is saturated.

The pointer forward to Jesus and his use of the image of cup is very clear - can you drink of the cup that I must drink? If we are to be a cup fit for the master's use, then should we not chew and digest our instruction, the same instruction from which Jesus learned his own calling?  There is no better way to do this than by meditation on the Psalms and the use of the imagery of these poems in both the New and Old Testaments.

This is the work of my book Seeing the Psalter. I use it myself to consider my own calling. I wrote it so that I could learn Hebrew poetry as fully as possible and it is serving me well on a daily basis. This useful book has now been reviewed by Professor Susan Gillingham of the University of Oxford for the Society for Old Testament Studies. The review is short but very encouraging. She calls it an "unusual commentary on the Psalms, in part technological, in part aesthetic, in part hermeneutical".

Yes - it is unusual. It is meant for growth for me and for the reader (that's the hermeneutical part). It does not waste time on distractions. She ends her review with these words for which I am deeply grateful:  "Overall this is an ambitious and intriguing project, but is still very much work in progress: interested readers should look at MacDonald’s shared documents at this website."

I concur with her comment that the book is a work in progress. It is like a huge canvas, impossible to finish. The Psalms are part of the infrastructure of the temple. A commentary is, like me and like you, a work in progress. But God forbid we should fail to progress towards the full scope of the image of power and love and a sound mind that we are called into and that is prepared for us.

[Susan's review is available online through Sage Publications, but hold your clicks. It is behind a pay wall. Sage offers a one month free access once a year. When it becomes available I will note it. I am pleased indeed that the review directly references my presentation at the Open University in London last year. It is a good summary of my intent. I will make sure this address does not get deleted any time soon. The summary is in no way a substitute for pondering the Psalms!]