I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night...
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
- Anonymous, Pangur Ban, Irish, 12th century? (translation: Robin Flower)
I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings,
And will not be ashamed.
And I will delight myself in Your commandments,
Which I love.
My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments,
Which I love,
And I will meditate on Your statutes.
- Psalm 119.46-48
Robin Flower’s translation of “Pangur Ban” (here just the first and last stanzas) is one of the treasures of Celtic Christian literature, one example of what this much-neglected period has to offer us today. The anonymous scribe who wrote this poem found new delight and significance in his labor, as the Lord spoke to him through the exertions of his little Pangur Ban (“white cat”).
This poem was written in the margin of an academic manuscript, a moment’s amusement amid the tedious, difficult, but apparently delightful work of studying the Word. The scribe, perhaps weary from his studies, contemplated his cat as it sought a mouse. And, as he did, letting this little creational drama unfold before him, God spoke to him about his own calling.
Our scribe would have worked in his monastery’s scriptorium, where, like The Scriptorium of The Fellowship of Ailbe, the Word of God was studied and annotated, and copies were readied so that others could have the Word for their ministries. In his poem, the scribe compares his love for the Word – carefully reading and copying, dutifully studying, and prayerfully meditating on every word – to his cat’s quest for a meal.
Perhaps he was put in mind of Job, who treasured God’s Word more than his necessary food (Job. 23.12). Or Jeremiah, who delighted to “eat” the Word of the Lord (Jer. 15.16). Or John, who upon eating the Word found it sweet to the taste, but bitter in the stomach because of the words of judgment it contained (Rev. 10.8-10).
Do we delight in the God’s Word? Do we feed ourselves with joy on its delicacies and meat? Do we even think that way? We may read the Bible, perhaps carry it to church, and maybe even enjoy some of our studies in Scripture. But can we say that we delight in the Scriptures of our Lord? Do we find them as essential to daily wellbeing as the meals we eat? Does the Word daily “Turn darkness into light” in your experience?
“Practice every day…” Reading, meditating on, and studying the Bible should be a source of great joy and spiritual enrichment every day of our lives. Only as we observe, guard, and deepen this daily discipline will the delight that awaits us in the Word of God make itself our own.
We must come to this discipline not grudgingly or half-heartedly; instead, let us imagine ourselves like Pangur Ban, on a mission to locate, capture, and consume a prize. Nothing satisfies the deep desires of our souls the way Scripture can.
The more we cultivate delight in God’s Word, the more time we’ll spend in it. The more time we spend in it, the more we will delight in it.
When that begins to happen, our delighting in God’s Word will translate into joyous living according to the commandments and promises of the Lord. You can increase in wisdom day and night, and have the darkness of your soul replaced by glorious and resplendent light from God, as you practice the daily discipline of feeding on and delighting in God’s Word.
Psalm 119.171-176 (Regent Square: Angels from the Realms of Glory)
With our lips we praise You, Jesus, for You teach us, full and free.
Now Your Word will ever please us; Your commandments, true shall be.
Let Your hand come forth to ease us; we Your Word choose gratefully!
For Your saving grace we plead, Lord, and Your Law is our delight.
We to live and praise You need, Lord, all Your help by day and night.
Straying sheep, we do not heed, Lord; come and seek us by Your might!
Lord, teach me to delight in Your Word, and help me every day to…
A help for your spiritual palate
If you need encouragement or assistance in learning to delight in God’s Word, I encourage you to order a copy of our book, The Joy and Rejoicing of My Heart. Here you’ll learn how to feed on Scripture with increasing joy and fruitfulness. Order you copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Ó Maidín, p. 193.