Hebrew poetry for non-Hebrews

I find that, if I am going to try and write a psalm of praise and worship, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the poetic devices I have at my disposal. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up from my research and experimentation.
Poetic devices not normally present in Hebrew poetry
  • meter
  • rhyme
Poetic devices used in Hebrew that do not normally survive translation
  • repetition of sounds -alliteration, assonance andparonomasia
  • acrostic
Poetic devices used in Hebrew that do translate well
  • Synonymous parallelism – second line repeats the first in different words having the same meaning
  • Antithetic parallelism – second line contrasts with the first
  • Synthetic parallelism –  second line adds to the first
  • Climactic parallelism – successive lines build to a climax or summary
  • Eclectic parallelism – combination of different types interwoven
  • Emphatic parallelism – synonymous words used for emphasis
  • Emblematic parallelism – literal statement is contrasted with a metaphor or a simile
  • External parallelism – syntactic units balance one another across multiple verses
  • Introverted parallelism – the order of the parallel elements is reversed (also known as chiasmus)

Praising God, wherever, whenever

I find that it’s important to have low tech ways of praising God. Ways that don’t require electricity or electronics or anything other than yourself and what you have with you.

Sometimes I take a more liturgical approach and experiment with praising God through ritual acts and poetry. Other times I take a more contemporary approach and experiment with praising God through unplugged song and prose. Many times I just praise God just through prayer, whether sitting, standing, or walking.

I find it’s important to experiment with praising God in the midst of everyday activity, not restricting the act to special times or places or being with special people. To free ourselves of the notion it’s a building based activity, that we can praise God anywhere, even outdoors. Maybe even especially outdoors.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

The following words of praise to God come from the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi. 

“Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for they will be crowned.”
― Francis of Assisi

Jesus, I’m NOT in Love with You

Wow, I just discovered John Stackhouse, an author whom I admire greatly, has a blog over at http://stackblog.wordpress.com. I think this will soon be on my favourites list.

I was searching for the lyrics of a worship love song that I got a bee in my bonnet about over the weekend when I found his critique of worship love songs and realized he had already done a superb job of it. Here it is:

One of the blights upon the hymnological landscape today is the continued presence of what we can fairly call the “love song to Jesus” genre. It’s been around as long as there has been Christian pop music – and even earlier, depending on what you make of sentimental gospel songs in the nineteenth century, eighteenth-century revivalist hymns, and especially a lot of the mystical poetry-cum-lyrics of certain medieval saints.

Today our congregation was asked to sing, “Jesus, I’m in love with you” – a line that shows up, in one permutation or another, in several songs that occur frequently in our worship leaders’ rotation.

Well, I didn’t sing it. It’s wrong, and I try not to sing wrong lyrics.

First, I’m not in love with Jesus. The locution “in love with” is one I reserve for one person only: my wife. I love my sons, I love my siblings and parents, I love my friends, I love my country, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love God. But I’m not “in love” with any of them. And I daresay most of the rest of us use this phrase in exactly the same, highly-restrictive way.

Second, it gives me the homoerotic creeps to declare that I am “in love with” another man. And I don’t apologize for saying so. A gender lens is interesting here, for a lot of men feel as I do (many have told me so), while many (not all) women seem to love telling Jesus that they are in love with him. I saw them, swaying with closed eyes and waving hands in the air this morning, singing exactly that. Maybe, indeed, they are in love with Jesus. But they shouldn’t be.

For the third point to make is a theological one. Jesus is not your boyfriend, not your fiance, and not your eventual husband.

By God’s grace, Christians get to enjoy a wide range of relationships with Jesus. We are described in the New Testament variously as Jesus’ slaves, Jesus’ servants, Jesus co-workers, Jesus’ friends, and even Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Since the plural form of each of these is used, it is correct then for me to say, “I am Jesus’ slave, servant, co-worker,” etc.

But the New Testament never calls Christians Jesus’ fiancees or his brides. Instead, it is the Church collectively, and only the Church as a whole, that relates to Jesus this way – just as individual Israelites did not relate to Yhwh as so many spouses, but only the nation of Israel as nation was his beloved bride.

So I’m not singing to Jesus that I’m in love with him, because I’m not. I love him, and I aspire to loving him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. But I do not aspire to being in love with him, and I’m sure he understands.

I wish our worship leaders and songwriters did, too.

Although for shear impact you just can’t go past Southpark’s take on this with the “Faith + 1” album. I think every worship leader and song writer should be forced to watch it and wince.

And if that wasn’t enough of an inditement, it seems even Matt Redman is beginning to doubt the wisdom of whole worship love song thing.

Ah, now I remember, the song was “Arms of Love”. I was sitting there thinking, yuck, if I substituted “Saviour” and “Jesus” for “Baby” and played it on Mix FM who would have known it was supposed to be Christian? I will demonstrate with some simple substitution:

I sing a simple song of love
To my [Baby], to my [Baby].
I’m grateful for the things You’ve done,
My loving [Baby], my precious [Baby].

My heart is glad that [y]ou’ve called me [y]our own.
There’s no place I’d rather be than

In [y]our arms of love,
In [y]our arms of love.
Holding me still, holding me near,
In [y]our arms of love.

Homoerotic creeps … and theological shudders. It was ironic that the sermon was about food offered to idols. That’s food I definitely can’t touch.