When my grandmother, Beatrice Allen Page, passed away, I received several of her unpublished manuscripts. Each Monday, I post an excerpt from her works. Here is the next piece from her book, Landscape With Figures:
“Looking for something to read last night, I was moved for some unknown reason to pull that old King James Bible off the shelf and read some of the psalms. What magnificent poetry! And what heart-felt prayers! I suppose this is so obvious to everyone but me that no one ever bothers to comment on it. It’s been so long, however, since I’ve read any of the psalms that I was totally unprepared for the astonishing impact.
I wonder if anyone prays like that nowadays – with that fervor. Or perhaps ‘enthusiasm’ is what I mean with its original Greek connotation of a God-inspired condition. I’ve no doubt that people pray with sincerity but do they pray with that passionate outpouring of yearning and thanksgiving that breaks out of the psalms as irresistably as a seed of its cost? Obviously it has nothing to do with oratory, with the pitch and timbre of the voice, or with gestures since all I had before me were printed words. It must be the imagery and the rhythm that convey the ardor. How closely does the English translation reflect the original Hebrew rhythm, I wonder? I also wonder why it is that under stress of intense emotion, words – either spoken or written – tend to fall into cadence? That works in revers too: such cadenced lines, when we read or hear them, tend to evoke deep feeling and heighten perceptiveness – a good reason for reading poetry in our ‘activist’ culture which tends to lose sight of that side of human nature.
There was another thing that struck me about the psalms – the sense of reverence, of awe, that shines through them. You can’t read them without feeling the conviction from which they sprang, the unshakable belief in a higher power. God was the creator of the universe and the focus of a man’s life, infinitely far about him and yet close enough so that he could pour out his heart to Him, and he was both humbled and exalted by the mystery and marvel of it all.
You’d think that modern man, penetrating deeper and deeper not only into the infinite vastness of the cosmos but the apparently infinite smallness of its basic elements, would feel even more dumbfounded before the mysteries. Yet when we explore space, split the atom, identify the coiling thread of DNA as the very foundation of life, we speak more often of the marvels of science than the wonders of God. Even though we long to transcend all limitation of knowledge and experience, perhaps we are afraid of mysteries unless we are confident of solving them, afraid of being confronted with something we can’t explain intellectually, of being overwhelmed by something we can’t dominate or direct. Obviously if we have lost faith in a God who is concerned with His creatures, we feel safer hanging on to the controls ourselves.”