I recently joined a group on Facebook – “120 Day Bible Challenge” - reading the Bible in 120 Days.” (You can, too, if you want to…) A colleague from seminary, Gary Manning, started the group, and kindly mapped out a reading schedule – about 10 chapters a day, that has so far, been manageable and fun. This is so in keeping with Gary, who has been one of my good shepherds, mentors and a “person-to-look-up-to” for a long time. He was a third year student when we all started in 2001… and our teaching assistant for Greek. He walked into each study session with the words, “fear not, little flock” – words we desperately needed to hear. We looked, no doubt, like deer or wayward sheep, in the headlights of the requirements of our new school and curriculum. He also led our senior year retreat – and his words about being an Associate/Assistant have come back to me, countless times…especially, that the Associate may be the person in the system who can provide comic relief. The Rector is full of obligation and worry, other staff are overwhelmed (as are you, of course) – but the Associate can take the role of fool, jester, light hearted spirit – and can help the whole system learn not to take itself so seriously. I have, from time to time, recognized that kind of foolishness in myself – as well as the other kind, which is not so light hearted!
We all started May 9th and will end September 5th. Folks are sending comments, including photos of where they are reading each day…I loved the one entitled, “reading the bible on Friday night”, which featured a candle and a glass of beer (Stella Artois, no less!) . I’m reading at my kitchen table, as usual, the sacred site of studying, praying, writing, and eating – four of my favorite pastimes! What I’m reading from is far more interesting – a new Bible one of the confirmation sponsors gave me. This Bible is called, the C.S. Lewis Bible – an NRSV edition, with quotes from Lewis’ letters and works. What a providential gift – and one that decided me on starting this reading project.
Now, I’ve read through the Bible before – we were instructed to do so before we started seminary – so I spent many feverish hours speed reading, with little retention… those were the days when I did everything the church or the seminary told me to do. (Thank God I got over that in a hurry!) And, of course, in preaching and teaching over my many years as a lay and ordained minister, I have read through sections of the Bible. So, lots of stuff seems familiar, but the pace is great – and allows me to ponder and wonder about some little things I had not noticed before.
Like, I just noticed that Noah walked with God … as did Adam and Eve, it can be interpreted, before they responded to the invitation of a certain serpent to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… I had remembered, incorrectly, that Abraham was the first to walk with God. Actually, God tells Abraham to “walk before him” - which may sound like no big deal, but one way to approach the Bible, is to notice, when things are said differently – because they often mean something different. Why was it that God made a covenant with both men, but changed only Abraham’s name…changing of names is a really big thing in the Bible…
I had forgotten that Esau gave away his birthright for a bowl of red lentil soup…and I wished once again, as I have many times, that I had done more than audit a quarter of Hebrew – the symbolism of names in this part of the Bible is awesome – and I know, escaping me!
I remembered what playing favorites does to the unity of family life – and how hard it is to reconcile, once you have done another person “dirty.” Yet, there it is, again and again, God’s reconciling action among and between God’s self and the people. I forgot that the key theme in the Joseph story is not about dreams (which always fascinate me) but that “only God can condemn and punish.”
Today, ending Exodus, I wonder why the tellers of this story, who repeated it around dinner tables and camp fires for generations, before someone recorded it – found it necessary and important to report, twice, that God admonishes the people that “no one should appear before me [God] empty-handed.” I think about all the times I have come, with nothing to offer, but demanding everything….
And I really wonder, after reading pages and pages of minutely detailed instructions for constructing the Ark of the Covenant, the temple, the curtains, the priests’ vestments and instruments for sacred rituals that are more exhaustive than an architect’s blueprints – how those folks ever made it out of Egypt carrying a host of different gemstones, silver, gold, acacia wood, fine thread for weaving, and the like – how could that people move more than twenty feet with all that stuff??? And at the same time, no one thought to bring water or C-rations on a journey in the desert? I am also grateful that we no longer require the priests to put ram’s blood behind their ears and on other places on ordination day.
There is such a lovely sweetness to this activity – to take the time to read and ponder, to wonder and delight, in the tiny morsels of meaning that such slow reading can serve up. I feel as richly blessed as Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, who longed and dreamed of the richness that would come from spending time to spend in the synagogue, to read the holy books and to pray.