An earnest young student of Scripture has asked me to explain Psalm 4 for once and for all. Well, I just had a look and let me tell you, this is not an easy task, the psalm wanders all over the place without seeming to connect together into a whole. However, it’s my self-appointed task to make all things clear once and for all, so let’s get on with it.
But first, please understand that I’m not really explaining anything in an intellectual sense. Big deal. It’s like the Crown Prince in “The Illusionist”, if you’ve seen that movie. (And if you haven’t, do so right away. It’s completely charming and wonderful). The Crown Prince sees a great stage magician do a great trick and right away he has to figure out how its done. No wit of admiration or appreciation or delight – it’s just an intellectual challenge. He thinks, “How dare that magician affront my wonderfulness with an illusion Wonderful Me can’t explain away? I’ll soon put a stop to that!”
If he manages to open up the trick and see its insides, well, then he can just leave it on the ground and walk away. Like he just shot a beautiful deer for the fun of it and has some more antlers to stick up on his wall. And that’s the sum total of his life.
I’m never going to explain anything that way – I hope.
I don’t want to read anything with a secret desire to cut it open and let its insides fall out, except maybe instructions on how to set up my new LCD monitor. Stuff worth reading acts around our edges and in the corners of our minds and seeps its way into our hearts where understanding begins to dawn.
Here’s the perfect example, except it all happened backwards.
Back in the Seventies I was recovering from serious surgery and was lying sleepless in the hospital night. I saw in front of my eyes a gray frozen river on a bitter chill winter’s day. On it, a young woman and a boy were skating along mile after mile past the brown sedge and the leafless trees and I saw the long scarves wrapped around their necks. This visionary picture came to me in Stanford Hospital, Palo Alto, California, long before I had ever spent a winter in cold country.
Six or seven years later, I was was reading the beautiful and haunting children’s book Tom’s Midnight Garden to my daughter and, on the page – there was the young woman, the boy, the frozen river, exactly as I had seen it in visionary sleeplessness.
Go figure, O Crown Prince. I never read that book when I was a kid. It came out in 1958 when I was already a high school junior. That image seeped in from somewhere, maybe I walked by that book in the library once. Or maybe I picked up author Phillipa’s Pearce’s thoughts in England while I was running up the high school stairs in my new Levis. I never have figured it out – but it made me a Phillipa Pearce fan for life. If the Crown Prince explained to me it didn’t actually happen but was just a hiccup in my mind like his kind used to “explain” deja vu, how much better off would I be?
Besides. It wasn’t a mental hiccup. It really happened. I witnessed a scene from a book I hadn’t read seven years before I read it. I will testify in court about it.
Pig, you are rambling.
Well, it’s important to know what it means to understand something. You understand something when your heart and your mind click together and both say – Oh I get it.
For instance, getting back to Psalm 4…
Continued next post