// on chicken goujons, and Psalm 23

reggaesauceI’ve started cooking properly again in the past few weeks, for the first time since about January. Actually taken the time and effort to chop and plan and watch this dish cooking, I mean, rather than just shoving stuff in the oven and then removing twenty minutes later. It’s tasted better than any food i’ve had in months, too.

Since exams finished, you see, I lost my appetite. Maybe it’s that, while revising, I turned eating into a chore – something that I needed to do, but something that distracted from all the stuff I had to get into my head. Maybe it’s just that i’ve been eating the same foods for so long, and so they’ve picked up some residual connection with exams. For some reason, though, I just haven’t been enjoying food. It’s been hard work. And so the other night was something of a breakthrough, really, a testament to the power of rediscovery and a reclaiming of good, God-given joy.

On some level, it works the same for Scripture too. At 10am this morning I was sitting in Caffe Nero staring at three different translations of Psalm 23, and with literally nothing to say about them. Psalm 23 is an astonishing piece of poetry, but it’s also become part of the cultural lexicon, and trying to read it I found myself desperately searching for some ‘new angle’, banging up against fragments of sermons and songs and opinions in the process, and trying to impress… someone, I don’t know who.

Maybe it was God I was trying impress (I know, I know, I’m an idiot). Maybe it was myself. Maybe it was you, whoever you are, reading this. Whatever; the fact of the matter is, it wasn’t working.

Rediscovery doesn’t necessarily come in new perspectives (that, by the way, is how we get the feminist Jesus, the mythical Jesus, or all kinds of other hypothetical Saviours); it comes in remembering, in re-experiencing something that originally took your breath away. Psalm 23, that used to take my breath away, as did “Tom’s Amazing Bagel Burger” – it’s worthy of the title, by the way – but over time both got stale, predictable, became a method of looking clever and so got stripped of all their joy. It’s entirely possible, it turns out, to reinvent things without the slightest hint of awe or wonder, just as it’s possible to be reinvigorated about something without changing a thing about it.

When I got back into the kitchen the other day, the end product wasn’t particularly amazing, but the process of making the thing reminded me of the joy of being able to put something like that together and how great a gift that kind of food and provision really is. Simply by taking the effort to make my own food rather than buying it ready-made from Sainsbury’s, it suddenly seemed to taste better – and not just because it wasn’t a ready-meal…

The same goes for Psalm 23. Sure, it’s possible to look at it through the perspectives of others, but at the same time that’s almost like ‘ready-meal Christianity’; the same final product, but without any of the effort. It wasn’t until I stopped looking academically, stopped trying to look clever and find the ‘new angle’ – in short, stopped trying to write an essay – that any of it regained its vibrancy, its power. And make no mistake, it is powerful. Try re-writing that Psalm in your own words, take the time to meditate on it, and you’ll see what I mean.

When life seems dull, it’s understandable that phrases like “He makes me lie down in green pastures”, “He leads me besides quiet waters” and “He refreshes my soul” lose their power, as we stop identifying with them. Instead of seeing this poem as an expression of awe or seeking similar experiences, then, it’s easier to turn it into a study, to ask pre-conceived questions like ‘what does this passage tell us about our evangelism?’ or what it says about David’s relationship with God – not bad questions, in the right context, but also methods of distancing us from what’s in front of us. The trick is in learning to look closer; to turn study into praise. Psalm 19, another David Psalm, opens in one translation with the words “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands… they have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world…” All praise ends up being the result of study directed in its proper context, but it’s disturbingly easy to forget that context…

That’s not to suggest in the slightest that the only purpose that the Psalms possess is in modelling an exemplary process; as anyone who’s read these Psalms searching for wisdom or for a revelation of God’s character will tell you, there’s something eternally, profoundly powerful about these words. But they do tell of the need to seek in order to really understand – to not just accept that “the heavens declare the glory of God” as though that were something normal, but to take the time to see what David meant, and in doing so, start to read Scripture – and nature – with wonder again.

“The heavens declare the glory of God.” You must have seen a sky that reminds you of that fact, and that points beyond itself to the God who made it. Was it that image that came you mind when you read those words, though? It wasn’t mine.

Having started to cook properly again, I’m tired of ‘ready-meal’ food, even if it is easier and so allows me to spend more time doing other stuff. I’m just as tired of ‘ready-meal’ Christianity, too, something that requires no real time or energy, just a simple, twenty-minute sermon dug out of the freezer out of some sense of necessity. That’s not the point, and, ultimately, that doesn’t give me the sustenance I need. It just serves to make Scripture, Christianity – this life – a chore, and that was never the way it was supposed to be.

Here’s to an end to ‘ready-meal’ Christianity, then.

Let’s face it, it was never all that good for us anyway…

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