Eugene Peterson, in discussing the creation story in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places focuses on the rhythmic patterns in the text. Six times the text says “God said ‘let . . .'” and “And there was evening and there was morning” and “And God saw that it was good.” The seventh day brings a complete break to that rhythmic pattern, setting up the Sabbath as a day completely different and set apart.
Walter Brueggeman, being interview by Krista Tippett on On Being, points out that the message of the prophets and the language of worship in the Old Testament is set in rhythmic text or poetry. The rhythmic patterns give weight to the exhortations, warnings, and exaltations of the Prophets and the Psalms.
I write this on the weekend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday observance. As I prepared to lead the congregation at Grace Church in reading Deuteronomy 8:1-3 aloud I imagined Dr. King reading it and hearing the rise and fall in volume and pitch along with his pauses and variations in tempo. The text is not set in verse form, but it is not difficult to hear a rhythm, albeit somewhat irregular, in the text as Moses leads us to the conclusion that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (ESV).
Rhythm is part of life whether we are aware of it are not. On a work day morning I get ready for the day in a fairly predicable pattern. Shave, then shower. Dress, but leave the necktie upstairs as a reminder to go back up to turn off and empty the humidifier. Take out the garbage, recycling, and compost. Put Violet’s newspaper in her mailbox and return to the house with our newspaper. Set out the vitamin and mineral supplements. (Lately we’ve added to the pattern the reading of Scripture and comments in Our Daily Bread just before we eat breakfast together.) Then I leave at 7:05 or a few minutes later for the walk to the train station. Even on the weekends that pattern is in place with some variation. At 8:40 on Sunday morning the radio’s always on and tuned to NPR so we can hear the week’s puzzle. When we stayed at our son Andy’s home in Pittsburgh for a few days after Christmas I was conscious that many parts of our rhythm were being interrupted.
So I’m aware of rhythm right now. My last post was composed in something that I intended to resemble free verse, but I don’t know if it would qualify as such.
Rhythm lends stability to life. It helps us set and maintain anchors for important parts of our lives so that we take care of them without having to focus tremendous mental energy on them. The mental energy can then be reserved for the many parts of our lives that we can’t predict and that are not part of the rhythm. It also helps us remember that God’s mercy endures forever (Psalm 136), and that’s an essential anchor point today.