7. Hiking in Hebrews: Towards More Picturesque Speech

 

When I was a child, I loved magazines. My grandparents’ basement was a treasure trove of perfectly ordered back issues—National Geographic and Readers’ Digest, in particular–and every time we visited, I mumbled my hellos, then beelined to the rumpus room to read my brains out. Torn between the two distinctly different magazines, I took turns reading both. National Geographic enthralled me with colorful photos of strange cultures (Africa’s bare-breasted ladies and tattooed tribesmen come to mind), while Reader’s Digest competed with equally puzzling anecdotes about work life, the military, and domestic miscommunications. I could almost say, Everything I know about life, I learned from Readers’ Digest and National Geographic.
But that wouldn’t be entirely true: I also learned satire from the Mad magazines my father confiscated from his students (and gifted to us), and for world news I devoured our weekly Time magazine the day it landed in our mailbox. I even made up my own news magazines, imitating Time, illustrated with hand-drawn ‘photos’ captioned in the pithy way Time used to tag its pictures: my early take on fake news, under-appreciated by my busy family.
I imagined myself a journalist, and a poet: in grade two, I was already writing metrical, rhymed poetry— with internal rhyme. Accordingly, my MOST favorite column of any magazine was called Towards More Picturesque Speech, found in Readers’ Digest. This monthly sampling of original metaphor and imagery made my heart beat faster. I wasn’t exactly sure how those writers came up with their picturesque snippets, but I knew it was a big aspect of Great Writing, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
As a writer—and a reader— I still love picturesque speech. And when I finally read the Bible, I realized some of the world’s most brilliant and vivid writing is found within, which is what I want to highlight in today’s hike in Hebrews.
Many lists of “Must Reads” for writers include the Bible, and rightly so. But often the suggested reason for reading it is to familiarize oneself with Biblical stories and characters referenced by other writers—kind of like taking a course on Greek mythology so you can draw upon those tales for inspiration, and know what other writers are referencing when they show off with big Greek names like Pleione and Mnemosyne. That’s a decent reason, but even from simply a writer/reader’s perspective, the Bible offers so much more. From cover to cover, it’s bursting with beautiful, striking, and intense imagery–and I’m not even talking about the quaint, poetic-because-it’s-archaic language used in the King James Version.
(FWIW, I’m not a big fan of the King James, preferring the New International, Version, circa 1978, for its diction and clarity.)
As we hike, we’ll encounter a lot of powerful imagery in Hebrews, not only in its Old Testament scriptures and examples, but throughout. As your hiking guide, I want to alert you to watch for Great Imagery Sightings along the way….like splendid wildlife, waiting in the bush to startle and delight you.
Even in the first chapter, we get some great sightings. (Trust me, we’ll get to Chapter Two soon enough. But what’s the hurry?) Let’s stop for a minute and admire a handful.
He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire. Brilliant. Can’t you just picture the angels, sweeping the earth like four strong winds at his command, fire in hand? Doesn’t this crisp description convey a powder keg of meaning?
..Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. Wow. This reference to Christ, set above his companions—that’s us—quickens my heart. His obedience to God results in anointing with the “oil of joy”. What a stunning picture, and hey, wouldn’t you like some of that divine oil poured over your head, too? (Hint: it comes through our own obedience.)
{The heavens and the earth} will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will all be changed. But you remain the same…. Here’s a powerful picture of how temporal and inferior our present world truly is, compared to what’s in store. Like a worn-out garment, ready to be rolled up, tossed away, and replaced with something far greater. What an image of God’s power over all creation, and of his priorities! Our physical world is just the stage; our souls, the players, are what remain, and what matters most to God.
Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. This, like the previous passage, is the Father speaking to the Son. We know Christ is already seated at the Father’s right hand. Now imagine all the world’s worst tyrants and enemies, scrunched into a meager footstool for his feet! How ultimate-victory is that! And portrayed in just fifteen vivid words…a master class in great writing.

 

 

I realize not everyone revels in words and writing the way I do. Many are far more thrilled by sports, video games, or the latest technology—stuff that’s lost on me. But for all the writers and readers out there who DO love words, word play, and word magic, I hope you’ll dive into Hebrews with even greater gusto, anticipating the pleasures waiting ahead. Because truly great writing, in this world of over a million published English authors*, is hard to find. Yet I can guarantee this: the book of Hebrews comes loaded with more than enough picturesque speech to delight the soul.
And if any publication, magazine or otherwise, is going to shape your world view and your thinking, why not let it be the wisest, purest, most meaningful Book on earth?
*One million authors and mushrooming…that’s what I learned this week at my local writers’ group. Self-publishing has opened the floodgates, with more writers (and competitors) vying for readership than ever. Without agents and traditional publishers to screen the underwhelming, there’s a lot of published dreck out there, so we need to alert each other when we find the truly great stuff!

5 replies »

  1. Leo Tolstoy in a little book of literary criticism entitled “What Is Art?” concluded that the greatest literature ever were the parables of Jesus and the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colours. It is said he set out to emulate these when he wrote “War and Peace”. What took Jesus a “small paragraph” took Tolstoy over 1300 pages. We need to listen closely.

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    • Isn’t the Bible amazing for its concision and precision! Exactly the right details; not too little, not too much. I still haven’t tackled War and Peace, and probably never will. Thanks for commenting!

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