Hebrew Psalms:  Praying the Narrative

 My interest in the Hebrew Psalms began ten years ago through the means of a series of accidents.  After my retirement I took a year assignment to a pair of upstate New York parishes.  My first task I set my self was to read the New Testament in Greek.  This was to make up for what I had not done in my active ministry even though a group of us had promised that when left seminary that we would not fail to continue read the New Testament in Greek.  In the course of that year I found in a pile of books tucked into the dusty bottom of a closet in one of these churches.  It included Volume Two of Isaac Leeser’s historic 1853 publication of the Hebrew text with his parallel English translation, and B. Davidson’s Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon.  Some pastor had left them behind.  Given the age of Leeser’s volume and the fact that Davidson was printed in England, it was probably some time in the 19th century.  Imagine a parish priest in the heart of New York’s milk shed, laboring away at his Hebrew!
      The what-next-question had a ready answer.  In spite of the rustic state of my seminary Hebrew, why not read the Hebrew of the Tanach?  The Book of Psalms commended itself to me.  It seemed like a manageable task.  The Office that I kept, causes me to read through the Book of Psalms every month.  That meant that the psalm were particularly familiar to me and the study would enhance that particularly act of my Spirituality.  It also fit my plans to write poetry in my retirement.  I was involved, at the time,  in completing a book of poetry which would appear as To Make Myself a Word: The Collected Poems and Images of a Parish Priest, in 2010, and presumed that poetry would continue to occupy me during my retirement.  The Book of Psalms, though seldom thought of in that way, is one of the great masterpieces of human poetics and it would enhance my own work as a poet.
       The venture has proven quite compelling and after 10 years, I have no indication that might back off of it any time soon.  I have made it through Leeser’s text and translation, Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg’s, Mikraoth Gedoloth, three volume work, several times and more recently The Metsudah Interlinear Tehillim by Helene and Josh Peyser.  I read each day and find the study as compelling as my Office.
 If adding this as a track in this blog might seem to be an aside, I should beg to differ.  What I find in my study of the Psalms is deeply connected with my search in general and in particular this blog to serve the narrative.  My experience is that the poetic of the psalter is very much connected to the narrative and can be understood as an attempt to pray the narrative.

     There is some kind of dynamic in human experience which embraces narrative, only find itself rejecting it or marginalizing it .  The narrative energy of the Hebrew experience, first in an oral tradition and then somewhere in 10th century B.C.E. as written text is exceptional from any frame of reference.  It continued down to the 5th century B.C.E., past the traumatic loss of its must prized possessions, the Temple and Court of Jerusalem, after which it progressively codified itself and looks for an alternative to the narrative.  In the first century, its narrative instinct is barely alive, only to be resuscitated by the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.  Beginning with a renewed oral tradition and a burst of epistolary activity, it matured into a Gospel tradition, which in turned spread out in a wide, if uneven, hagiography.
      It might seem that the claim that the Hebrew experience lost it genius for the narrative tradition after its return from the Babylonian exile, is an anti-Jewish bias seeking to commend Christianity at the expense of Jews, making the Tanach into the Old Testament and the Christian literature into a replacement, a New Testament.  But as the reader will soon see, the same critic will be applied to Christianity, which has in successive moments loses its narrative genius, a genius not unrelated to the narrative genius of the Hebrew-Jewish community.  As early as Marcion, circa 235,  there was an attempt to extricate Christianity from the entire Hebrew narrative.   It was widely understood that the amputation of the Hebrew narrative would be fatal to Christianity’s own narrative genius as well.
      Among the succession of crises which attempt to terminate or marginalize Christianity’s narrative foundation, one that always interests me is the crisis of the high medieval church of the West in which the western church was transforming itself into a monarchy found on a newly defined body of canonical law.  How else could it compete with the rising medieval monarchies?  What halts its triumph is the “little poor one” Francis of Assisi, who builds outdoor creches to point to the narrative and in general acts out the life of Jesus.  It is an example of the reassertion of narrative, a reassertion that rescued the Western Church for a fatal transformation of itself into a monarchy, competing with other monarchies.
      There are many other example of this dynamic before and after Francis: for example  Arianism, Catholic and Protestant Dogmatic, Evangelical Fundamentalism.  My argument is that the present crisis of the church is caused by the transformation of the church into ideas which internally divide it and externally make it irrelevant, and what is required is a concerted effort to repossess its narrative core.   A Franciscan style movement to re-evangelize the church is called for.  By this the church would not only find unity within its self, but relevance to the world whose on dysfunction lies in the absence of a narrative.     
     Under the Label Jesus and the Meta-Narrative this blog hopefully will explore ways to repossess the Jesus Narrative and to place it in the context of an overarching enabling narrative, or what is generally called a meta-narrative.

No comments:

Post a Comment

As the Easter Season of 2024 comes to an end, I am posting two new poems which came as a result of trying to think about the mystery of the ...