Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reading Scripture

Every once in a while I take a notion to read the lectionary readings for the day. A while back I did that for a few days just for the heck of it. The result wasn't so much anything learned from the specific readings as it was a reflection on the process and purpose of reading Scripture in the first place.  This thread at Pooch's reminded me of what I wrote about my experience of Scripture.

My most common reaction reading Scripture is often a kind of baffled wonderment. Some of the references are difficult to understand without looking up information on the context. Some of it is just plain weird, strange and even totally incomprehensible. But a lot of it strikes me as fresh, inspiring, uplifting and comforting no matter how many times I have read it or heard it read from the pulpit (which is how Scripture should be experienced in my opinion). [I realize how ridiculous that sounds coming from someone who does not go to church. I do not claim to be consistent, God knows!]

We know there are multiple authors for most of the books in the Bible. Especially in the Old Testament there are actually competing and/or contradictory versions of the same story woven through entire books. There's almost a point-counterpoint (in music is that called contrapuntal?) effect. It's like an echo.

The Prophet stands up and says, "God will smite you!"
God's Messenger says, "God loves and will have mercy on you."

The Teacher says, "Listen to the Word of the Lord, and obey."
God's Messenger says, "Listen to your heart and follow the path of love."

The Church says, "Outside the Church there is no salvation."
The Lord says, "Come ..." for rest and for life abundant. I love the image of: "....a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over..."

A person could get sort of intellectual and/or spiritual whiplash reading this stuff. I used to try to study Scripture by studying every word and considering the nuance, the context, the audience. I got caught up in the details of hermeneutics and historical-critical biblical exegesis. All of that can be very cool, especially to someone with a literary bent. Some of that is even sort of important. But, I found that I too easily lost the forest for the trees when I studied the text too closely. Scripture is a little like spilled mercury. It's a bitch to try to gather into one glob, and it's toxic if you're not careful. It is also incredibly beautiful and useful, if you handle it cautiously.

After a lot of trial and error, I reached the point where I was able to read Scripture the way I listened to it read from the pulpit: I sort of let it flow over and around me and I don't try to think about it too much or force it to go anywhere in particular. I listen to the words and phrases that jump out and mean something to me today, on this particular reading. My assumption is that I have read it before, and I will read it again someday so I don't need to wring every bit of meaning out of it. I have a general idea of the hermeneutics and all that stuff. What I want now is to know what the text has to say to me today.

The tension between the "church" and the "spiritseekers" is clear in Scripture. I take great comfort in the message that God cares for all God's children, both those who stick to the straight and narrow as well as the wayward and recalcitrant ones, like me.

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