When my pit bull works on her bone, she holds it between her front paws, sucking and chewing and rumbling away. Totally engrossed, she'll pause only to raise an eyebrow when one of my kids walks by. Unless you've got bacon or we're going for a walk, back off, she seems to say. Then with a low rumble, she gets back to that bone.
While I've long enjoyed watching my dog do this, until I read Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book, I never applied any spiritual significance to her gnarling and gnawing.
As it happens, while Peterson shares my love of dogs and their crazy bone-chewing, he also caught the spiritual significance. While reading Isaiah 31:4 ("When a strong young lion stands growling over a sheep it has killed …"), he realized hagah, the Hebrew word for growl, is often translated as meditate. According to Peterson, Psalm 63:6 also uses hagah: "I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night."
"Our Hebrew ancestors used [hagah] frequently for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls," Peterson writes. "'Meditate' is far too tame a word for what is being signified …. [W]hen Isaiah's lion and my dog meditated they chewed and swallowed, using teeth and tongue, stomach and intestines."
You don't have to love dogs (or lions) to appreciate the beauty and power of this as it relates to how we might hagah on the Word of God. In fact, those of us who get sleepy thinking about traditional meditation welcome this image. Instead of quiet and passive reflection, it's an invitation to grapple with Scripture so we might know and savor it better.1