Is-ness is Good; See and Taste: a book review

Theology is word care, or, if you like, Word care. Theologians explore sacred writ and tradition, reflecting on the meaning of words and Word. They help us see the full meaning and implications of our  belief. This is what makes O Taste and See such a joy to read. Poet-Theologian and New Testament Scholar Bonnie Thurston turns her gaze on one of the best known and loved verses from the Psalms, Psalm 34:8, “O Taste and See that the Lord is Good; happy are those who take refuge in Him.” As only a poet (or Biblical scholar?) can, she explores the depths of the words, and helps us attend to what they mean for us.

After a brief introduction orienting readers to the world of the Psalms and this Psalm, Thurston explores the first part of this verse (O Taste and See that the Lord is Good) by taking a ‘backward journey’ through it. She begins by reflecting on how ‘the Lord is’–God’s Being–His Is-ness (chapter 2). She then reflects on God goodness (chapter 3). God is revealed in Bible and made manifest in the world as good, gracious, as Love.

Having established the identity and character of the God, Thurston invites us the feast. We are to ‘see God’ and ‘taste God.’ These sensory metaphors take us from the realm of theology to the world of experience. Thurston connects ‘seeing God,’ to the Word.  This is where God is revealed to us, but who is it that sees God?  The pure in heart and those who know that God’s Being provides the ground for their own being. Seeing is a metaphor for understanding, and our understanding comes as God reveals himself to us. She makes a nod toward Karl Barth for upholding the concept off revelation–God’s own self disclosure-over reason, though she  expands his concept beyond the world of scripture, seeing God revealed in nature and religion as well (I can hear a  Barthian nein here). Thurston relates ‘Tasting God’ to the sacrament of communion. When we come to the table we partake in a meal where Christ–God made flesh–is revealed to us.

Thurston’s explication of this Psalm is enriched by her love of words. As she takes us on a journey reflecting on God’s ‘Is-ness’ and goodness, she also unpacks each word. Each chapter begins with etymology. She traces the meaning of the words in the Bible (the Divine name, Goodness, Seeing, Tasting).  She was a New Testament scholar and so gives  more weight to the Greek (likely her strength) and prefers to discuss the Psalm’s words in the Septuagint. But as she does this, she traces these words forward, showing how the concepts of God’s Being and Goodness are described in the gospels and Paul’s letters. If I have one small critique it would be that I wish she explored the Hebrew world a little more (the language that gave us this psalm).

One of the things I loved  was the way Thurston synthesized and drew on a wide range of scholars and spiritual writers from diverse theological perspectives. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant writers all provide Thurston with source material. She draws generously on a spectrum of theologians which include the likes of Sallie Mcfague and Dorothy Soelle on the one side and Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer on the other. This is an ecumenical book in the best sense.

Despite the theological depth (and breadth) of this book, it is not a work of academic theology. This is a book about spiritual experience. In it, Thurston shares her own journey  experience and understanding of this Psalm. It was in the basement St Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church in the mid 70’s that she first heard and sang R. Vaughn Williams choral arrangement of “O taste and See”(xiii-xiv).  That congregation, years of study,daily reading of the Psalms and prayer has also shaped her understanding. This book unfolds her deepening experience of God. She speaks with  confidence in the being and goodness of the God of whom she has tasted and seen.

And so I recommend this book to you. This is a theologically rich meditation on a single verse from the Psalms (okay,  half a verse); yet Thurston attends to the full meaning of these words and invites us to experience the God who is good and the God who is. Happy are those who take refuge in Him. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

2 thoughts on “Is-ness is Good; See and Taste: a book review

    • Hmmmm. . .I hadn’t thought of that, but it is the right length for a weekly reader. My first thought was that it isn’t really a ‘ Lenten reader,’ but I think it does have a preparatory aspect to it. Less on the theme of purgation.

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