One of biggest changes that college wrought in me was a new perspective on my faith. There’s this phrase C.S. Lewis uses where he thinks of our imaginations being “baptized”, that is that our faculties—our hearts, minds, spirits, what have you—are enlarged in order to better experience or understand or take in that which we were before unaware of. My imagination was enlarged in an attempt to grapple (not fully understand mind you, but to witness and acknowledge) the vastness of God: his transcendence, his immanence, his humanity in Christ, his mystery in Spirit. That was day 1: Theology I, actually. And it was onward and upward from there.
I mentioned once before that I’ve been reading Luci Shaw’s Breath for the Bones. At one point she’s talking about journal-keeping, and how when we re-read our journals it’s like taking a helicopter ride back over a landscape where before we had only walked or hiked. At the time we saw only the particulars, the individual ups and downs of the experience. In reflective hindsight we see the whole scope of the thing, be it a year or a decade; and we can get a sense of the lay of the land, so to speak. Spiritually this can be really helpful, for so often in the day to day we miss out on the overall theme. We can’t see the forest through the trees.
This idea of looking at life by the small blips or by the vast panorama can come into play in how we read the Bible. I know for myself, one of the things which Eston encouraged in me was to read whole books in one sitting. I seldom actually did this, but the value was not lost on me: in reading the whole of say, Ephesians, or John, we can see how the whole thing works. Now we might not dissect and analyse the thing as we’re doing so…and that’s perfectly alright! For that tendency to study the text should not, I think, come before first reading the text: hearing it as a Story. Getting into the lives of the characters, seeing how they went about working out their relationships to God…how God was working out making himself known to them. We let the text work on us.
I like how Eugene Peterson puts it in his introduction to 1 & 2 Samuel in The Message:
The biblical way is not so much to present us with a moral code and tell us “Live up to this”; nor is it to set out a system of doctrine and say, “Think like this and you will live well.” The biblical way is to tell a story and invite us, “Live into this. This is what it looks like to be human; this is what is involved in entering and maturing as human beings.” We do violence to the biblical revelation when we “use” it for what we can get out of it or what we think will provide color and spice to our otherwise bland lives. That results in a kind of “boutique spirituality”—God as decoration, God as enhancement. The Samuel narrative will not allow that. In the reading, as we submit our lives to what we read, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but to see our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.
Such reading will necessarily be a prayerful reading—a God-listening, God-answering reading.
I love that. And I feel drawn back into that world that I discovered in those years at Eston. For they encouraged us in that same way…not to see God as an object to be studied, but as the Subject within whom we find love and forgiveness and wholeness again.
So, I’m on a mission to read in wholes. And what I love is that this requires imagination-living. Not that we’re making things up! But we need our imaginations baptized if we’re to be able to see our day to day lives, and our day to day reading of Scripture as part of something bigger.
This morning I happened upon a video which is what first enticed me to write some of these thoughts down:
Favourite line: “Frequently and thoroughly!”
So may you see whatever is on your plate today as a part of the bigger story of your life. May you know that no matter how difficult things might seem, that there is One who knows you, who feels your pain, and wants to guide you through it. And may you read not with the intention of mining out some small particular for personal pleasure, but may you find yourself immersed in God’s goodness as you are “swept along” by the Story.