“. . .and in his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1
I spend my day writing or teaching, mostly. Normally I watch about two hours of television, one hour of which is news. About an hour from now, I’ll put in about 30 minutes at the gym and probably another 30 recovering. I’d rather not tally the time I spend piddling around and thereby avoiding the horrors of an empty computer screen; but, honestly, it isn’t all that much. I’m a Calvinist; we’re the folks that gave the world capitalism, for heaven’s sake. We make much of time.
What I don’t do is meditate, day and night, on God’s law. Not really.
Not long ago in an airport, I watched a man in a hat locate a private spot behind the ticket podium, take out some kind of cloth, unfold it carefully, then lay it out with remarkable precision. Then he rolled up his sleeve and wound something that resembled black surgical tubing around his upper arm. He assumed some kind of position and started praying.
He was Jewish, strictly so, and he was praying, meditating. He was discreet, but his meditation was more public than, well, my meditation that evening. It was a prescribed ritual that he felt important to accomplish even if he wasn’t at home. But that ritual began and it ended; once we lined up to get on the plane, the surgical tubing came off.
Because the Psalms are poetry, we need to cut them a little slack when it comes to occasional bold assertions. I honestly don’t think anyone can take this line literally—the only way we can be blessed is if we meditate day and night. Let’s cliché it down a little: in this case, my sense is that we need to respect the spirit, not the letter, of the law.
My great-grandfather, an eminent professor of theology, was notoriously absent-minded. One winter’s day, ruminating on some a biblical text while skating down a Dutch canal on his way to preach at a church on the coast, someone grabbed him by the lapels in order to stop him from simply skating his way right into the open terror of the
Deep meditation?—yup, but it’s fortunate he wasn’t driving a car.
The strength of the English language is in strong verbs and concrete nouns—at least that’s the rule. Here, however, I believe the finest truth is in a simple preposition—in. The KJV has it, but the NIV doesn’t. The NIV uses on, and while it may be more grammatically accurate, on seems to me to be
North Sea dangerous.
Meditating in the law, day and night, leaves a lot of open space. Living in the law, living in God’s covenant promises suggests being in a world, really, a world that allows space for writing and teaching, just as well as milking cows, selling cars, and holding little apple-cheeked kids with too-high fevers, like I just did. Holding my sick grandson yesterday was a kind of meditation, just as much as this is.
I’d say it would be easier to say of Grandpa that he was meditating on the sermon, than in it.
We all need spiritual discipline; we all need to talk with God. Not to do so is to lose touch. But maybe, just maybe, we need to learn a little from our Islamic friends—or our Lakota brothers and sisters. In a world where separation of church and state is a pillar of our national faith, we need to remember that all of life is spiritual and that even our work is a meditation in God’s law.