How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What NaNo Will Get from Me


I first heard about National Novel Writing Month in November 2009. I was incredulous that anyone who didn’t write for a living would be able to write 50,000 words in one month. That’s about 1,666 or 1,667 words a day! At that point I felt accomplished and stretched if I typed in 550 words a day, about the length of a computer document page. I would have to essentially triple my output if I ever wanted to participate - say, the next year. That year it was blissfully too late, so I had a great excuse not to worry about whether or not I should try it. 2010 and 2011 went by with me giving NaNo nary a thought; no one I knew ever talked about it and I wasn’t “plugged in” to any writing community.

This year, however, I almost considered participating. My commitment to writing, which I had always believed strong, burgeoned, particularly over August and September; I was becoming more disciplined and focused on my daily output; and I had discovered an inspiring online community of young authors like me who were talking about it. Many had participated and even accomplished their goals!

Just think, 50,000 words will, if not give you a complete novel, at least give you a substantial manuscript that should be no trouble to finish soon afterwards. As long as you win NaNo you’ll have something to work with that you can more than likely finish. No doubt NaNo is the best thing for many people. I thought it might actually work some wonders for me, too, this year - I had a novel that needed completing; I’ve been working on it since June 2011. It didn’t need 50,000 more words, but I thought that there was still a large chunk left out in space that called for an application of NaNo.

But then I received one of those fabulous story epiphanies that come when one is not actively writing (I think this one visited me in bed): I finally recognized the ending that my novel Adventure in England needed. And I was much closer than I thought.

And so I realized I didn’t need NaNo after all. That was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment in itself. I even had hopes of finishing before that, but now I see I’ll finish it during. I won’t need 50,000 words, but I will reach a worthy goal during this ingenious annual event. I’ll be there celebrating with other writers at the end of November.

What will 2013 look like?
Since we’re on the subject of writing, which I hope we’ll return to more often, I’d like to tell you that I plan to make my next blog post or two about my four major novels.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How Precious Are Your Thoughts, Pt. 2

Here’s the continuation of Tuesday’s post:

Word number six in Psalm 139:17 is another mah, meaning how, only pronounced a little differently: meh. Remember, this refers to something that is unknown, something that might have an unlimited volume. This time it goes with ats’mu. The root atsam means abundance, so the translation of “vast” really hits the mark! The Hebrew words for bone and strength come from that same root, by the way, so obviously the type of abundance we’re thinking about is one that brings strength. There’s strength in numbers. So, since it’s Yahweh’s thoughts that are being described, we see through this word that they’re numerous and empowering. If we would just embrace all of them, there would be no room in our lives for sin - and just think how strong we would be with our hearts and actions completely taken up with His ways! The very last word completes the second phrase of the verse, showing the parallelism that defines Hebrew poetry. Rasheyhem is translated “the sum of them,” referring, of course, to Yahweh’s thoughts. The root is rosh and means “head.” I asked myself, “How do you get head to mean sum here?” and the answer, I think, is in the wording of the command in Exodus to take a census of the Israelites. Exodus 30:12 - “When you take a census of the sons of Israel” is literally “when you lift up the head,” a Hebrew idiom. So now that makes sense! David, the Psalmist of 139, “took a census” of Yahweh’s precious thoughts and found them beyond number.

My mom, when she’s done studying a verse, likes to translate it as an Amplified Bible might, so I’ll try my hand at it: “To me, how desirable and costly are Your profoundest thoughts, God! How abundant and strong is their sum total!” And how hard it is to fathom them, Lord, for You are more than we can fathom.

“How great You are, how small I am.

How awesome is Your mighty hand,

And I am captured by the wonder of it all.

And I will offer all my praise

With all my heart, for all my days.

How great You are, how great You are, how great You are!”

- chorus toHow Great You Are" by Phillips, Craig, and Dean

Even though God’s ways are unsearchable - our deepest digging only scratches the surface - we should still be occupied with trying. We should be so in love with Yahweh that we never cease striving to know Him more and more. And with true knowledge comes changed lives.

Writing is one of the best ways for me to seek after Yahweh. It’s how I process things. When I sit down to write, the responsibility is before me to convey the world how Yahweh sees it. I doubt I would ponder it as much as I should if I didn’t write.

I believe that is one of the deepest reasons why I write.

And that is why Psalm 139:17 is at the top of my blog.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Precious Are Your Thoughts, Pt. 1

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite psalms - I just realized that when I read it once again while preparing this post! The verse at the top of the page is Psalm 139:17, “And how precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great has been the sum of them!”

You know how it is sometimes - no matter how often you read a passage, some things never jump out at you. Until a propitious day. One of my best friends gave me a beautiful magnet with this verse on it. At first I didn’t realize it was a Bible verse, since there was no reference. But then, later on, I came across the phrase in my Bible reading. I know I had to have read it before - but only now did it leap off the page, into my heart. (Just like God’s Word should, huh?) When I was planning my blog, I knew this was the perfect verse for the top.

One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is to analyze the words in Hebrew. (Even Hebrew translations of the New Testament have been made, and I like checking out the Hebrew concepts behind the Greek words.) So I thought, why not do that here with my “theme verse”? So here it is, word by word.

First of all, the main idea of Psalm 139, written by David, seems to be amazement and praise for the infiniteness of Yahweh’s knowledge. He is everywhere. He knows everything. He knows me more than I do. “O Yahweh, You have searched me and know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought from afar.” (Verses 1-2)

In verse 17, our verse, the first word is v’li, which means “and to me.” In Hebrew, many times the first word of a sentence is placed there for special emphasis. The second word is mah, which implies something is an unknown. It can mean what, how, why, etc. - so it may not have a limit, or its limit is incalculable. The third word completes the thought - yaq’ru. It means “they are precious.” Precious, as in costly and desirable, like a prized precious stone. Re’eykha is next, informing us what is so much of a prize: “Your thoughts.” El, which means God, is the next word and says who is being addressed. To me, re’eykha, re’a at its base, is the most intriguing word of this verse. Strong’s Concordance shows how it is related to re’a, the word for associate and friend. A thought is an association of ideas. But I also looked at etymological dictionaries* and found a stronger interweaving of meanings: The root of re’a is ra or ra’ah, and its most basic meanings are: feed, shepherd, desire, tend, satisfy needs. Feeding satisfies needs. A shepherd satisfies the needs of his sheep. A desire needs to be satisfied. Friendship satisfies. The thoughts we’re looking at in re’a are the deepest ones, the ones that are seeking spiritual sustenance. Yahweh understands our thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:2) and so we seek out His thoughts, which are so profound, so wide and deep and beautiful, that we can lose ourselves in them. We don’t want to emerge from thinking His thoughts, because they are utterly satisfying. Putting it together with the previous words of the verse, we exclaim that our desire for His thoughts is limitless!

This velcros to so many other verses of Scripture, including:

Proverbs 3:15 - “[Wisdom] is more precious than rubies, And all your delights are not comparable to her.”

Matthew 13:44-46 - “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man, having found it, hid, and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a man, a merchant, seeking fine pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Next time we’ll look at the second half of Psalm 139:17.

Questions? Comments? Found more associations that we can make?

Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, by Jeff A. Benner, and Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, by Matityahu Clark

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: Emily of New Moon

I posted a pretty thorough review on Goodreads. But I still had more to say and discuss about random things in this wonderful book that wouldn’t exactly fit in a regular review. So that’s what a blog is for!

I’ve often sensed that Montgomery’s books are part fantasy - the breathtaking descriptions are other-worldly, the children usually have some belief in fairies, a few character traits are enlarged (usually due to the children’s perspectives), and conversations about lofty subjects frequently pop up. This was true in Emily of New Moon. But, in other aspects of the books, Montgomery has strictly reality-tied themes. The children grow up and things aren’t so fairy-like or menacing as they once were. Very real personal conflicts are a major feature. In Emily of New Moon, for example, Emily’s friends are the gifted set, those who are usually misunderstood by other schoolchildren and relegated to the outside - I was struck with the realness of that situation.

Then there is “the flash” - surely something fantastical, but then again, maybe not. “It had always seemed to Emily … that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside - but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she had caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond - only a glimpse - and heard a note of unearthly music. … And always, when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.” It always inspires her to write something. Later authors have testified said that this type of thing happened to them as well. As a writer, I have experienced something similar, though not so powerful. I see an object or hear a word, and a whole beautiful scene or story bubbles up around it; I love getting to commit to writing what comes to me, but it seldom satisfies me, and those sensations surrounding the thing stay in midair, always to be returned to and longed after but never fully captured.

L. M. Montgomery has the ability to weave together spiritual or ethereal things and physical, everyday things and to show how they all make up a true picture of life. That’s what I love about her.

Here are a couple of quotations that stood out to me:

“‘I hope I’ll have a history,’ cried Emily. ‘I want a thrilling career.’

[Dean Priest said,] “‘We all do, foolish one. Do you know what makes history? Pain - and shame - and rebellion - and bloodshed and heartache. Star, ask yourself how many hearts ached - and broke - to make those crimson and purple pages in history that you find so enthralling. I told you the story of Leonidas and his Spartans the other day. They all had mothers, sisters, and sweethearts. If they could have fought a bloodless battle at the polls wouldn’t it have been - if not so dramatic.’

“‘I - can’t - feel - that way,’ said Emily confusedly. She was not old enough to think or say, as she would ten years later, ‘The heroes of Thermopylae have been an inspiration to humanity for centuries. What squabble around a ballot-box will ever be that?’”

I love it when an author can explain exactly how I feel about a given subject! I know the dramatic, even sad or terrible events of history have immeasurable significance, but I had a hard time pinpointing exactly why until I read this.

“And that fat, black jar of pot-pourri on the mantel - her mother must have compounded it. When Emily lifted the lid a faint spicy odour floated out. The souls of all the roses that had bloomed through many olden summers at New Moon seemed to be prisoned there in a sort of flower purgatory. Something in the haunting, mystical, elusive odour gave Emily the flash - and her room had received its consecration.”

Only L. M. Montgomery!

Now, tell me - what do you think of Emily of New Moon or L. M. Montgomery’s writings in general? If you write, have you ever experienced anything like “the flash”? What are some of your favorite scenes, characters, descriptions, etc., in the Montgomery books?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book Review: Magic Island

                                                                 Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery    
Magic Island took me on my first journey into the life of one of my favorite authors, L. M. Montgomery. I’d known a little about her, probably gained from Wikipedia perusals and short biographical notes, but this book really helped me make her acquaintance. And in the best possible way, too, to someone mainly interested in her books.

Each section covered one of her novels or short story collections in chronological order, starting, of course, with Anne of Green Gables in 1908 and ending with Anne of Ingleside in 1939. The connections between Montgomery’s life and her fiction are numerous and intriguing. I discovered, for example, how she dealt with experiences, emotions, and people (!) in her life by translating them into fiction, how writing her stories lifted her out of gloom, what her beliefs were behind all the themes in her books, and just how vivid, even to psychic proportions, her imagination was. Mostly through Montgomery’s journals and letters, I was shown how her fiction was inextricably tied to what was going on in her real life.

As an aspiring writer, I found it instructional to see how this iconic author wove the writing of fiction into her busy life, not just dreaming up stories but relentlessly working at chapter after chapter and keeping up with the changing times to make each book a success.

As a Christian, I was interested in the path Montgomery’s beliefs took. She was not a paragon of virtue in personality or orthodox theology, but she reflected her times, on what I would call the tail end of a liberal mind. Her depression, and her husband’s, didn’t help. But I admire how she conscientiously tried to keep bleakness out of her novels. “I would not darken any other life. I want instead to be a messenger of optimism and sunshine.” (quote from page 93) That is a storyteller who takes her gift to humankind seriously.

Of course I gained a deeper insight into her books, but not so deep an insight that I’d be caught up in picking them apart instead of enjoying each story as a whole. One of the things I most appreciated was the opportunity of a vicarious enjoyment of all her works, reliving some stories and learning about the unread others. This is highly valuable to me because, as much as I would like to, there is no guarantee I’ll be able to read all 22 of them.

If you enjoy L. M. Montgomery and can take the respectful and moderate literary criticism of a devoted Montgomery scholar, this book may very well be just the thing to thrill you - and spur your own creative talent. Because that is Montgomery’s legacy - a joy-filled run into the beauty of life and imagination.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Time Called Narnia

After a wonderful vacation it’s hard to return to daily life! Do you know what I mean? What do you do to cope with getting back into the routine of existence after a momentous getaway? I try to keep the experience with me and let it elevate the rest of my life - after all, even daily things are grand when you look at them as stepping stones and building blocks.

I have a friend who first lit upon the idea of the extraordinary summer camp we both attended being comparable to Narnia. And the more I think about it, the more any special vacation is like that in a way. When I was little and first understood the time warp that occurred whenever the children went to Narnia, I thought it was such a unique notion. How did C. S. Lewis ever imagine stopping time in this world, putting his characters through an epic adventure in another world, and bringing them back to this world, still in the same instant as when they left it? But more and more I’m realizing that it mirrors the real-life sensation of going away and coming back. Time moves at a different speed (usually lightning-fast) in the “away” place; when you come back (if it hasn’t been too long) you feel like nothing in the “back” place has changed. I wonder if C. S. Lewis ever thought of it that way. Have you ever had the sensation that you left the world as you know it for a place that could be called your Narnia?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sukkot and Our Love Story

I just returned from celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. Even if you aren’t very familiar with it, I hope you enjoy an excerpt from my many thoughts on it.

Sukkot is the Hebrew name for the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:34-43). This is perhaps my favorite biblical festival of all … though all of them have different focuses so it’s hard to compare them! Sukkot often involves leaving your house, your comfort zone, and dwelling in a temporary shelter for seven days. It’s a bit of an adventure! In Israel, when the Temple was standing, all men (their families could come, too) were required to journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot there. Imagine meeting the Lord at the Temple! This was the culminating festival, the final ingathering of the harvest, and the peak of the year. It’s a foreshadowing of the time when all God’s people, His bride, will at last be reunited with Him. When we celebrate it today, it gives us a taste of dwelling in His Kingdom, making us thirst to be with our Husband.

How romantic is this? Jeremiah 2:2 - “Thus said Yahweh, ‘I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your bride hood, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” And Hosea 2:14 and 19-20 - “Therefore, see, I am alluring her, and shall lead her into the wilderness, and shall speak to her heart …. And I shall take you as a bride unto Me forever, and take you as a bride unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and kindness and compassion. And I shall take you as a bride unto Me in trustworthiness, and you shall know Yahweh.”

Our love story is with God. I see it as the basis of all the love stories that have been told throughout the millennia. That’s why we find so much satisfaction in the happily-ever-after ending, when the hero and heroine have at last been united - it reflects and reaffirms our longing for our Hero! Sukkot, too, reflects and reaffirms the coming reality.

Revelation 21:3 - “See, the Booth of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God.”