Starbursts, Apples, & Meditation Practice
Imagine for a minute you’re eating your very favorite candy EVER… Go on, imagine it.
Yum, right? Swirl it around in your mouth a bit. Tongue-toss it back and forth, from one cheek to the other.
Small bits? Large bites?
Imagine your mouth filling up with flavor; slurping back the succulent drool that’s creeping toward the corners of your mouth. There is no way you’re letting this heavenly morsel go, so you tuck it out of the way – in your cheek or under your tongue – so you can still have intelligible conversations. Been there?
I remember as a kid, sucking on Starbursts at the beach, wrestling with priorities. To chew it up or not to chew it up, that is the question? Whether tis nobler of the mind to suffer the long moments missing time to swim while slowly savoring the bite size fruity fragment, or take up task and quickly chew it up, wasting the flavor along the way, to get back to the water as soon as possible? For a child, the dilemma was crippling. Most often the Starburst won and swimming was delayed for as long as it took to get every last sense of succulence swallowed.
Now, I got a new word for you. Ready?
It sounds just like it is spelled, with short vowels, only you’ll want to pull that first “H” sound from way in the back of your throat like you’re hocking up a loogy: Hagah! Got it?
You know what it means? It’s a Hebrew verb, and you’ll find its few forms a dozen or more times throughout the Psalms translated variously. Ready?
It means to utter or ponder or meditate.
My favorite place where it pops up is right at the outset of the big long book of Psalms; Psalm 1:2, where it hangs like a banner over the entry way into a big long hall filled wall to wall with profound truths that you’ll want to spend some time uttering or pondering or meditating on.
I’ll give you a few verses for context…
“Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates (THERE IT IS! Hagah!)
day and night.
“He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3, ESV, emphasis mine)
I don’t recall if I have shared pictures of our family dog on this blog or not. If you’re a Facebook friend of mine, you’ve likely seen her more than you cared to. No matter though, here she is…
This is Selah. She’s a Weimaraner; a silky shimmery short haired breed of hound dog that originated in Germany. She’s more amazing in person than even what you might imagine from this picture. I bet you have an amazing pet also. And if your amazing pet is a dog with a personality anything like Selah’s, I bet your amazing pet loves to play around.
Selah will chase down anything you throw – balls, wood, Frisbee, shoe, rope – and if she knows you have a treat in your pocket, she’ll even bring it back to you, unless of course it was an apple. Throw Selah an apple, and it’s hers for good. And she becomes the funniest dog when she gets one too.
She’ll take it in her mouth and prance it over to a private little patch of grass and drop it. She’ll walk around it a couple times, getting a good look at it from every angle. Then she’ll hunker down by it and take a few small nibbles. All of a sudden she’ll jump up and bat it around on the ground with her paws, bouncing back and forth, barking at it, as though it just came to life. This will go on for several minutes. Then she’ll settle down again and take a big bite into her mouth and sort of tongue-toss it around, like we might do with our favorite candy. Eventually, she’ll jump up and play the same game all over again with what’s left of the apple, and the whole thing continues until the apple is gone, and often enough, until the afternoon is gone too.
The whole goofy scene, you know what it is?
It’s an active and lively pondering or meditating.
Well that isn’t what I think of when I hear the word meditate.
Well, that’s what the Hebrews thought of when they heard it and read it in verses like the one above. The insistent commendation from the Psalmist was to take hold of the “law of the LORD” – that is all which proceeds from the mouth of God, recorded in the Bible, to instruct His people in living life abundantly and loving Him wholly and loving others radically – take hold of the Word of God…
Read it slowly over and over,
move around it,
peer at it from different angles.
Take small bites of it,
tasting and seeing
that the LORD is good.
Hunker down over it,
handle it some,
say it out loud a few times.
Think about it and
write about it and
talk about it with others.
Leave it for a while,
walk through the day’s hours,
come back to it and read it again.
Weave it into a prayer and
put it all back
before the throne
from whom it all came.
Spend long moments with the “law of the LORD” – like Selah with her apple, like you and me with our favorite piece of candy – longer than what may be comfortable even. Here’s what I mean.
My alarm goes off at 5:00am every morning. Most of the time I snooze it for another 10 to 15 minutes. (Bare-honest moment: Sometimes I turn it off and go back to sleep.) But eventually I rise and shine. Here begins my favorite part of the day. The house is quiet and still at the same time. I have my Bible and my journal and a heart and mind still unencumbered by the weight of the day.
These days in particular I’m reading through the Minor Prophets. After reading devotionally several verses in a row, I begin to write. I try to keep the verses front and center and write thought for thought. Then I push it all back and away, recline on the sofa, close my eyes, and employ my imagination for a while. I want to imagine people and places and words and such. I want to imagine contexts and voices and expressions on hearer’s faces. I want to imagine coming into God’s presence with His words I’ve read and my words I’ve written and offering them back to Him as my offering for the day. Often I’ll wrap up the time writing again, but now I’m writing out what I hope to tell others in respect to what the previous several minutes produced in me.
So I… Read it
Then, after 10 – 30 – 60 minutes or so the longitude of the day ahead begins to seep into the moment. I close up my Bible and journal and take whatever thoughts trickled into my depths and head into the day with all its excitement and blur. But hagah is not done. Hagah has only just begun.
I’ve only just unwrapped the candy and popped it into my mouth.
The Psalmist says hagah is a “day and night” thing. Hagah is spending time in God’s Word. But further yet, it is spending enough time that when you leave it, it hasn’t left you. Write that down…
The “law of the LORD” is still there on my mind and in my heart; ruminating around at the deepest part of my soul. The truths and principles are there at hand to live out and love on. A key word or phrase keeps tumbling around on my tongue. A pointed story leaks from my lips to others as opportunity arises; and opportunity will arise if we’re serious and look for it.
Hagah means we take the full breadth of that time with the “law of the LORD” with us through the full breadth of the day. Like Selah’s apple, we keep it in view and come back to it, take another bite, bat it around a bit more. Like our favorite candy, we hold it there in our cheek as long as possible and savor the flavor that soaks into our taste buds. Like anything we are devoted deeply to, we talk it up and pass it around for others we know and love to experience as well.
I wonder if you’d be up for trying hagah with me one of these mornings this week or next. Maybe try it a couple days in a row, or a few days out of several. The return on investment is sincere. Scroll up and read verse 3 again. In fact, hagah a bit on verse 3…
Read it over a couple times. Write it out with a few thoughts or feelings or ideas that come to mind about it. Then just imagine the whole picture – a steady stream, a gangly apple tree, brilliant red fruit, bright green leaves. Frame what’s stirring in your heart into a prayer before the Author of the text. And finally, take it all with you as you head into the day ahead.
And just see if what the Psalmist says there at the end doesn’t become your reality.
(This post was adapted from a chapel talk I gave recently at a local Christian elementary school.)