I have read Psalm 1 many times and often contemplated the differences between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. I have noticed how this psalm progresses from a definition (1:1,2), to an illustration (1:3-4), and finally to a conclusion (1:5-6) But this time through there was one word that jumped out to me, that is the word mediate (1:2).
I’m not a Hebrew language geek, but every once in a while I will research to see what words mean. I find it interesting that the word (hagah) which has been translated as meditate also means devise, muse, or imagine. I’m pretty good at mediating on something, but to muse, to devise, to imagine? These words bring something different to the table. It seems, in part, what is meant here is that we allow ourselves the freedom to create something new as a response to the law of the Lord. I don’t mean that we create new laws or new moral imperatives. No. I mean that we find ways to understand the words of God in ways that are unique to us.
David used the example of a tree planted by water for the righteous person. It is a picture of strength and beauty, but also dependence and life. But for the wicked we see him being described as chaff. As useless material that easily floats away as the wind blows. These examples, the imaginings of David, help us to understand, not merely know about the law of God. What I think David is getting at is that meditating on God’s law means allowing it to permeate our mind: both the rational and the imaginative mind. Both sides are required because we are not only to know the law of God, but we are to understand it.
But how is it that we understand a thing? For me it usually begins with defining terms, gaining a vocabulary, and getting familiar with the basics. But that is only the beginning of the path to understanding. After I know the basics and am able to see how the basics are connected to other concepts, to illustrations, and to life itself I finally begin to scratch the surface of understanding.
I am reminded of something Gandalf said to Frodo in the movie Fellowship of the Ring,
“Hobbits really are amazing creatures. You can learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you.”
Gandalf knew about hobbits but he allowed his familiarity with them to be open to surprise. I think if we are honest with each other we understand what this means in our relationships. With the exception of the few truly boorish people that exist, most people are much more interesting as our knowledge of them grows. We find that the more we know of a person, the more depth and beauty there is to be found. But, on the other hand, if my knowledge of a person is limited to only what is found during a first encounter, my eyes are closed to any real understanding of them.
I think this is what David suggests when he calls us to meditate. We ought not restrict our encounter with the Law of God, his word, to a quick one-time reading, thinking that by it we have understanding. Rather meditation means that we muse over scripture, think about it, ask it questions, and even engage our imagination. Keep in mind that when David wrote this he most likely only had the first five books of the Bible available to him! I know it’s not an easy section of scripture with which to engage our imagination, but David knew those words were the way to feed his understanding of the infinite God.
Most of us read the Bible, and have read it many times, but I wonder if we really mediate on it? Do we allow it to capture our imagination? Do we wait patiently each time we read it until we find something new? Even more importantly, do we allow our interaction with it to lead us into an encounter with the infinite God himself?
As I suggest in the first few chapters of A New Song, we are creative beings from whom God wants to hear a new song sung to him. What new song will you sing? What will your imagination, rooted in and fed by the living word of God, bring forth for others to see a glimpse of God that only you, with your unique God-given abilities, can produce?
If you are wondering what this might look like, check out this page (A New Song) and the associated entries to read some of the poetry I have written as a result of my encounter with God through the Psalms.