I am in the last half of a year of concentrated recovery of faith. a year of so many questions. Questions about who I was, am, want to be. Questions about who God was and is and is yet to be. Questions about what the collective Church was… is… and maybe could be… will be. And what do I have to show for it? Ironically, a lot more questions, but also a lot more peace.
This month I took a look at what triggers a reaction in me, then I had dessert and began reading three very interesting books. Dessert was necessary, triggers are very uncomfortable and frustrating embodiments of what is happening within us mentally and spiritually. Reading the books began as joyful and inspiring, but quickly morphed into intolerable. As in ‘heart racing, breath holding, need to break and go for a walk to regain composure’ kind of discomfort. I took breaks to do dishes and clean— does this tell you how uncomfortable this was??
“The Power of Love,” by Bishop Michael Curry, “Eat This Book,” by Eugene Peterson, and “Inspired,” by Rachel Held Evans. Wonderful books. Challenging books. Horrible books. All of which points to the fact that they are books that were indeed worth the read. Each of them challenged me to partake of Scripture again. Which sounds wonderful, and it is, but it is also scary.
Why is it scary to approach a book that I would once upon a time spend hours a day in? Because I used to accept the easy answers about the seriously questionable parts of this Holy Script, like a Hello Kitty bandaid on a seven inch wide stab wound. Because I am now even more aware of how that book has been used to hurt people for hundreds of years. Because that book is so tied up in current politics. Because the Church has become so divisive and uses its own Scriptures to to be so.
In Inspired, I was introduced to the practice of midrash. Evans quotes Wilda Gafney, “Midrash interprets not only the text before the reader, but also the text behind and beyond the text and the text between the lines of the text. In rabbinic thinking, each letter and the spaces between the letters are available for interpretive work.” (If you would like an excellent example of midrash, read the children’s book “Miriam at the River,” by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Khoa Lee. Seriously, go to your library and just sit and read it. Like now.) In very basic terms, midrash seems to be this idea of entering Scripture. Pick a text, read it a couple times then close your eyes, imagine the smells… the textures… the sounds…. Then watch what is happening in that passage and also inside of you. Every book ever written is an invitation to participate in a grand adventure, but if the words stay on the page, the journey never begins. Midrash is our formal invitation into Scripture.
But Eugene Peterson wrote and elaborated on Isaiah 31:4 and the word ‘growl.’ In the Hebrew it is hagah and is “usually translated as “meditate”… But Isaiah uses this word to refer to a lion growling over his prey the way my dog worried a bone. Hagah is a word that our Hebrew ancestors used frequently for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls.” If we watch a lion or a dog chewing on a bone, there is a determination to wring out the very last morsel of joy and nutrition that they possibly can. If midrash is us entering Scripture then hagah is Scripture entering us.
Do you begin to see how that is both very enticing and terrifying in the same breath? When the words that we are challenged to partake of and be a part of are the very same words that were preached to slaves to keep them enslaved… these words were used to lead crusades… Spanish Inquisition anyone? How about forced assimilation/conversion of Native Americans in Canada? Or how about how when it is used to persecute the LGTBQ community? When Scripture is used to justify racism embedded in our culture?
But what midrash and hagah have taught me is that we aren’t to take the Bible and just accept it because it is “the Bible.” No, we are to sink our teeth into it and tear it apart. Wrestle with it— like Jacob with the Angel. Embody the struggle within it and acknowledge the struggle within ourselves. I think that is part of what Bishop Curry was saying when he reminded us, “Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel, “The scribe who is fit for the Kingdom goes into their treasure box and pulls out something old that becomes something new.””
These songs have been on repeat in my brain. Give a listen.