I’m busy reading Frank Herbert’s third Dune novel (Children of Dune). Marvellous fiction! I would consider it mostly political thriller, set in the far future. I’m sure more blog posts will follow from having read these, but today I’m pondering the role of memorised and recited words in people’s lives.
In the Dune universe there is a sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit. In some senses one could consider them a religious order. One of the most famous snippets of text from these novels is their litany against fear:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Various characters recite this litany in their minds when they need to calm their nerves. This part is so well known, I have wondered if anyone has adopted it and made use of it in real life?
There are certainly similar ideas in human history. The first thing to come to my mind was Psalm 23 from the Hebrew Bible:
Attributed to David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
- Psalm 23:4 Or the valley of the shadow of death
That’s from the NIV, the text borrowed from BibleGateway.com. The version that is most familiar to me is the Afrikaans one, which many an Afrikaans-speaking South African probably memorised in his youth. (How about you?) In fact, if memory serves, I think we were even taught this psalm in school in grade 1.
It is probably one of the most well known psalms? I would be surprised if there is a reader of this blog that has not come across it before. “Beloved by Jews and Christians alike”, says wikipedia, Jews traditionally sing it (in Hebrew) during the third Sabbath meal (Saturday afternoon). In the twentieth century it became associated with funeral liturgies in the English speaking world.
While I can remember reciting this psalm in my youth, I cannot recall whether I used it in the manner of the Litany Against Fear above. I’m wondering how many people have some memorised texts that they do use for inspiration or motivation of some sort, and I mean both sacred and secular. Have you ever drawn on some motivational text? A poem perhaps? Or for the religious, how about a common text used in prayer? (I suspect free-form/personal prayer probably carries much of this function for religious Christians?)
I’ve actually been playing with this concept lately since I have needed some motivation and support during rough days, something to inspire and drive me forward at times when my motivation sags. I will share a bit more about this… if a couple of readers first share their experiences!