Monday, May 02, 2005

Again and again and again...

I don't much like re-runs. While I'm willing to admit they have a value (sometimes I miss an episode the first time through, or it's one like the "Two Cathedrals" episode of the West Wing that really speak to me deeply)watching a re-run is way down on my list of things I'd rather do. This creates a little conflict with the lady in my life who loves watching re-runs of her favorite shows. I believe she has now committed to memory every episode of the entire run of M*A*S*H.

This next bit will sound like I'm backtracking but I'm not. I do watch my favorite movies more than once. I also read my favorite books again and again (I'm reading "Catch 22" for probably the 6th time right now) It's just that I like to have a little space between times that I view or read something. I want it to fade in my memory just a little bit so that when I see or read it next I can have at least a little bit of an "AH-HA!" moment again.

All of this is introduction to a phenomenon that I encounter with one particular book. Over the last couple years I keep getting surprised by those Ah-Ha moments when I'm reading a book that I've read or had read to me literally thousands of times in my life. It happens when I read the Bible.

For a lot of Episcopalians the concept of personal reading of the Bible isn't as deeply ingrained as it is with some other denominations. Part of this comes from the fact that we hear a lot more Scripture during worship than many others do. Show up at an Episcopal church on Sunday and you will likely get an OT reading AND a NT reading AND a psalm PLUS the Gospel. That's a good thing. The other reason why we don't is, IMO, that as a church we do a rotten job of helping folks approach the Bible. And that's a bad thing. Because as I said, it's amazing how often you can be surprised by what's in there.

For example, a couple years ago I was the leader of a bible study (astoundingly my leadership didn't seem to damage anyone's chances at immortal salvation). I felt pretty confident as we worked our way through the story of Noah. Till we hit the part that FOLLOWS the Sunday school section. Do you know the part about drunk, naked Noah? About him getting all unreasonable when his children try to help him while he's drunk, naked and passed out? Total surprise to me.

Plus there are the more useful surprises. Like a recent lectio divina session I did where we were discussing the story of the woman who breaks the jar of nard, expensive perfume, over Jesus's head. She gets criticized for it. Now at that time I was feeling overwhelmed. Too much to do, and no matter what I got done I felt guilty because it meant that I'd set something else aside. The image I use is it feels like a koosh ball (if you've never seen one imagine a ball made up of a thousand rubber bands with one end in the center and the other forming the outer "edge" of the ball) that has someone pulling on every single strand at the same time. There's lots of tension but very little movement. That's how I felt as we studied this familiar bible story. It was Jesus's response to the criticism that blew me away.

"She did what she could"

Those words, which I'd heard a dozen(?), a hundred(?) times before hit me like a lightning bolt. For me at that moment it was an astounding "new" discovery in the midst of a scriptural re-run. And it keeps on happening.

So if you don't already read your bible on a regular basis let me offer this suggestion for starting. Find a version that is comfortable for you. I use the Revised Standard Version. I like the flow of the language and mine has great footnotes. There are some great study bibles out there. Or try The Message which is in very real, everyday kind of English with no little verse numbers to mess with you. (You do know those are NOT original right? The chapter and verse thing was added much later. So why get hung up on it? Real books aren't written that way) Then just pick a place to start. I recommend starting with a Gospel, like Mark. Why Mark? 'Cause it's the shortest. 16 chapters in less than 26 pages in my Bible. (Don't get hung up on length. I mean The Third Letter of John is less than a page but may not be a great starting point.) Then just read it chunks. Pick a length (a page, a chapter, a story at a time)or read till you hit something that makes you want to stop and think a little. When you hit your limit stop and think about it.

You may be surprised at what you discover in that re-run.

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