This morning, like so many other mornings, I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. I started perusing the interwebs at something like 3:30am, and here we are at 6:30 with only one cup of coffee down. In my scrollings, I saw a post about deconstructing one’s religious beliefs, and there was the old evangelical response of “There is no deconstruction. You can take the Bible or leave it.”
Which is a flaming pile of bullshit, but you knew I was going to say that.
Quite a number of months ago, Akilah asked, in response to my post about finding a great deal of comfort in writing the New Testament and studying the Bible, “I would love to hear a little bit about what you think helped the most with renewing your faith or providing you comfort/peace at this point, if you want to share.”
I guess one of the biggest comforts over this time period is realizing that there’s not one way to read the Bible. I’ve always known that intellectually, but that wasn’t part of the teachings of the Evangelical church I attended when I was growing up. No one ever said, “You should read this book all your life and you’ll change your mind about it hundreds of times.” When I started listening to The Bible Project, I was introduced to the idea of the Bible as Jewish meditation literature, and a lightbulb went on.
I’ve really only been reading the Bible seriously (compulsively?) for a few years now, and I learn something new every time. Today, in the early morning hours in an effort to get back to sleep, I went back to the opening pages of Matthew. It’s one of those books I return to over and over again, and I’ve learned heaps from it. Each time through, even if it’s only a bit or a piece, I pick up on something I missed before. While I have a tendency to camp out in the Sermon on the Mount for comfort, today’s reading reminded me that so many of the prophecies in the Bible were fulfilled by choice. Joseph did abc so that the prophets would be fulfilled. John did xyz so the prophecy would be fulfilled.
“I do not think that Jesus ‘knew he was divine’ in the same way that we know we are cold or hot, happy or sad, male or female. It was more like the kind of ‘knowledge’ we associate with vocation, where people know, in the very depths of their being, that they are called to be an artist, a mechanic, a philosopher. For Jesus, this seems to have been a deep ‘knowledge’ of that kind, a powerful and all-consuming belief that Israel’s God was more mysterious than most people had supposed; that within the very being of this God there was a give-and-take, a to-and-fro, a love given and received. Jesus seems to have believed that he, the fully human prophet from Nazareth, was one of those partners in love. He was called, in obedience to the Father, to follow through the project to which that love would give itself freely and fully.”
This passage is from N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. When I really embraced that question of Jesus’s calling, it changed everything I feel about Jesus. It humanized him in a way I didn’t really feel before. If Jesus chose to fulfill prophecy because he felt a soul-deep call to it, that makes his sacrifice even more stunning, relatable, and quite frankly, amazing. I guess I tended to think of a God-shaped figure perched on Jesus’s shoulder telling him what to do along the way. Though, again, if we really focus on the Scripture we see that this is not the case. Jesus saw and heard God in prayer and through the movement of the Spirit.
Can you imagine? I couldn’t, but now I can, and that’s the magic, for me, of the Bible as Jewish meditation literature. Read and learn, endlessly.
5 thoughts on “The Bible: Meditation Literature”
A few weeks ago I listened to Jericho Brown’s On Being interview and he read from a poem that contained this line:
..We talk about about God / Because we want to speak / In metaphors
I struggle mightily with religion and the bible, but that poem has made me pause. I can’t say for sure, but I think I was always taught to read the bible literally. But it seemed like Some People were given the power to tell everyone else what to take literally and what to read as metaphorical. Who gets to make that choice? And how do things shift when you read the whole dang thing as a metaphor? My head has been exploding with these thoughts.
Anyway – your post made me think about that poem again. What is the bible? What is supposed to be literal (because I can believe very little of it as a literal account)? What is God? Who was Jesus? These are just some of the things I’m thinking about lately. It’s an interesting idea that the prophesies of the OT were fulfilled in the NT by choice… I’ll be thinking about that one for a while!
Sorry that this was such a crazy response. My head has been spinning for weeks and I’m working on a much larger blog post about it all.. One that I will probably never even publish because it’s all so overwhelming!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I can relate to so much of this. I was taught to read the Bible literally as well, though I’ve never been able to get fully onboard with that interpretation. When I started listening to The Bible Project, Tim Mackie talks a lot about the Bible in terms of Jewish storytelling and literary devices and design patterns and themes. THOSE are things, as an English teacher, that I can get onboard with and understand, and that really make the whole Bible even more captivating and beautiful. All of this led me to wonder “Is Jesus real? Was he ever real?” I think I finally decided it doesn’t matter, to me personally, if he was historically real (though there’s support for historical Jesus) any more than it bothers me to read a work of fiction, interpret it, and come out richer in understanding of the human condition, empathy, and love. What Jesus preaches in the Bible is a way of love and justice that I can get onboard with. I guess as Rachel Held Evans wrote, “The story of Jesus is the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.” Always love your responses, Katie!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’ve spent many years believing that Jesus wasn’t even real. Now I believe that he was real and was a charismatic leader, not necessarily a divine being sent from God. I’m trying to carefully read the Gospels to understand better. I just finished reading Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts, which was helpful. Mostly it gave me permission to be on this journey. To be in the in-between and be okay with it.
In the introduction to Daily Prayer, Padraig O’Tuama wrote, Naming is what God did, the Jews tell us, and the world unfolded. Or perhaps naming is what the Jews did, and God unfolded. Those two sentences have also given me permission to find my identity somewhere in the middle between doubter and believer. I identified as an atheist for a long time and am trying to get comfortable with the term agnostic.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I just love Sarah Bessey so much. Out of Sorts was the first book of hers I read, and I absolutely loved it. Between her and Rachel Held Evans, I definitely found that space to be in-between and discover and play and experiment. I also identified as an atheist for a while and then as an agnostic for a long time.
I just recently discovered Padraig O’Tuama (at the Evolving Faith virtual conference!) and I was just delighted with him from the beginning. I love this. I’m fascinated with naming in general. 😀
I just love talking about this stuff with you. Thank you for taking the time to comment!
I loved this post, and I loved reading your conversation with Katie. Reading the Bible is great, and I keep wanting to finish the whole thing and then getting distracted. Like you, I’ve been on a journey to and from God and Jesus, and I decided, ultimately, that not believing didn’t work for me but believing the way I was taught to definitely doesn’t work either. So, yes, thank you so much for these posts and your reflections.