Confessions of a 40-year-old beginner
For the third time since 1988 I'm a beginning Hebrew student. The first time was my second year of seminary, and unfortunately I didn't get securely grounded in Hebrew that year, because I had some major discouragements/hangups that I was dealing with, and it got in the way of my academics. It was a real shame. Hebrew should have been the same kind of "entering a new world" experience that Latin and Greek had been for me in college.
I had actually written off Hebrew as something I wouldn't ever get back to - but then came Spertus, which was the best distance ed program for my needs - an accredited, legitimate program which connected with my special interests in ancient languages, thought, culture, and religion. I need to pass a Hebrew exam in order to complete the degree, so in mid-2004, after I was done with the first course and awaiting the second, I plowed through the first ten chapters of Biblical Hebrew Step By Step by Menahem Mansoor, a simpler Hebrew text than Weingreen, my seminary Hebrew text. Then the second course came and I abruptly dropped the Hebrew. Then I finished the second course and found that I was almost back at Square One with Hebrew! So Now that I'm starting the third course, I've decided that I'd better keep at the Hebrew a little bit each day, so I don't have to begin a fourth time. Though Weingreen is harder, I've gone back to it, as it's more comprehensive, and there's something satisfying about actually being able to compose some simple but biblical-sounding phrases after trudging through a jungle of odd-sounding grammatical rules.
Here's a fun sentence I recently translated from Weingreen:
מי אני ומה־אני
mi eni w'mah eni, "Who am I, and what am I?"
In other news, I sometimes feel like a beginner on the cello after 27 years, though I know it isn't really true. But I don't feel as sharp with it as when I was taking lessons and playing in orchestras every week. This year I set out to teach myself Bach's Suite #4 for Unaccompanied Cello, just so I would be learning new stuff and not just playing the same old things. I think I'll be continuing with Suite #4 in 2006 as well.
I also feel like a beginner as a Christian apologist, a full 28 years after I first encountered the works of Francis Schaeffer and first caught the vision from him (and from an extraordinary Bible study fellowship we were part of when I was growing up) of a Christian faith which connected with all areas of life, the mind as well as the heart.
I also feel like a beginner as a philosophical thinker, 20 years after an undergrad philosophy course which revolutionized my thinking by introducing me to the concept of a Paradigm Shift. Long before that phrase had become a banal buzzword at the hands of Steven Covey and others, a "paradigm shift" meant an all-encompassing change in an individual's or society's basic World View. Already prepared by Schaeffer for this kind of idea, I've spent the last 20 years looking for my next major personal paradigm shift, a new lens bringing into new focus my perennial questions about the Bible, the Church, the world, etc.
I feel like I should be farther along in these pursuits than I am, considering what good beginnings I had. Perhaps I'm farther along than I think. It's my nature to dig ever deeper into the roots, so that could be part of why I don't feel like I've reached the treetops. Perhaps rather than feeling like I'm too old to be beginning, I could tell myself that it's a way of being young again!
They say "well begun is half done." Maybe if I keep at it now I'll be half-way done when I die. And it'll help if I don't get mad!