Wednesday, July 22, 2020

East is East and West is West

For many years now, I've been memorizing both Scripture and poetry. As with all memorized material, I have to keep revising the pieces in order to retain them, but this is a normal part of the process. Some of the ones I learned longest ago are the most readily accessible, and one of these is Psalm 103, which I set to music way back - probably in the 70s. 

Music helps retention, of course, and though it's harder to learn things that way initially, the words stay in place much more than they do in a piece that has no music accompanying it. Which is why rhythm and rhyme are helpful in memorizing poems. The brain enjoys the feel of swinging along, and of words echoing the same sound.

Psalm 103 is one of my favourite Psalms, full of great lines. Unlike some Psalms it doesn't swing back and forth between reproving the reader and encouraging him or her. It's encouraging from beginning to end. And though it's a Psalm focused on blessing the Lord, we see in line after line how He blesses us.

Here are a few consecutive lines from the Psalm that I particularly love:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth
So great is His lovingkindness to those who fear Him.
As far as the East is from the West,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

How far is the East from the West? Some humourist might say that they must be next door to each other at some point, but I know that's not what the Psalmist is saying. I've been writing a children's book (for some time now) which partly takes place in The Ends of the Earth. In my mind, As Far as the East is from the West' is a similar sort of place. I'm even thinking of using it at one point in the book..!

Notice that the word 'fear' turns up twice in this extract. (It appears three times in the full Psalm.) For some people this gives the impression that we should go round looking over our shoulder in case we're upsetting God. But it's much more about acknowledging that He's our Creator and is infinitely superior to us in every way. In the Book of Proverbs there's a famous line: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That presents the same sort of idea: understand who's the One with the wisdom, and you'll learn wisdom. Pretend you know everything, and you'll fall flat on your face.

In another Psalm, it says: the fear of the Lord is clean. I take that to mean that it's not the fear of a monster, but of someone who has our best interests at heart.

The translation I've used above is the New American Standard. It's been superseded by a bunch of other translations since it first came out between 1963 and 1971, but because I'm so familiar with it, I greatly prefer it, and much of the Scripture I've learned comes from it.