How I Read the Bible

008

I write about Scripture pretty frequently here because, well, I write about faith, and for me, faith and Scripture are woven together like a brightly colored tapestry. But let me be clear: I don’t consider myself a teacher of Scripture at all. At all, at all. This gets tricky, because I write in a public space. I have a platform, and though it’s a small platform, it’s still a platform. People are listening. I need to remember that.

Which is why I feel like I need to set the record straight. We might read the Bible very differently, you and I. And while I believe this is perfectly okay — I believe there is more than one way to read the Bible — I feel like I need to tell you how I read the Bible, just so we’re clear.

I read Scripture mostly in a lectio divina kind of way. Lectio divina literally means “divine reading.” It’s a contemplative way of reading, a practice first established by St. Benedict way back in the sixth century. Reading the Bible this way means that I’m typically reading it very slowly, just a few verses, at most a chapter, at a time, and while I’m reading, I’m opening myself to the possibility that God might have a personal, intimate word for me. This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes — frequently, in fact — I read my morning verses and I come away with nothing. But sometimes a word or a phrase resonates, and so I stay there for a few minutes. I often jot that verse in my notebook and scribble a few thoughts about it, trusting that I am hearing it right and true. These verses and my reflections often come to comprise my Weekend One Word posts.

I believe God’s word is infallible, but I also believe we can interpret his message differently today than, say, the first Christians did 2,000 years ago. I believe the essence of God’s word is constant, yet at the same time fluid.

So, for example, I don’t believe Paul’s exact message to his audience 2,000 years ago is necessarily the exact same message God intends for us through his word today. What God needs you to hear in his word might be different from what he needs me to hear, which might be different from what he needed the Roman Jews and Gentiles to hear (even if we’re all reading the same verse). How God speaks to me through his word might be different from how God speaks to you through his word, which in turn might be different from how God spoke to the Jews and the Gentiles through his word (via Paul’s teaching).

I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m not an authority. I’m just muddling through, trying to make sense of what is often a confounding mystery. My interpretation of Scripture in this space is exactly that – my interpretation; the way I believe God is speaking to me through his word. I trust that the Holy Spirit is leading me in the right direction — and I’ll often ask the H.S. (that’s what I call him for short) outright, “Tell me if I’m off-base here!” — but there are no guarantees. I very well could be wrong. I do not have the last word on God’s word.

I like the way Kathleen Norris puts it in The Cloister Walk. “When I quote Scripture, I am not trying to convince the reader that I have some hold on the truth,” she explains. Instead, she says, “I am telling the story as I have experienced it, as ‘an open door which no one is able to shut.’ (Rev. 3:8)”

Scripture is the living, breathing word of God, an open door which no one can shut. It’s as alive and relevant today as it was yesterday, which means God speaks personally and intimately into our immediate circumstances, just as he did yesterday, a century ago, and two thousand years before that. God is bigger, deeper, fuller and broader than we could ever possibly comprehend. Likewise, I believe his word contains more space for us than we could ever possibly imagine.

 

Let’s Grow Something Beautiful…Together

seedsinhands

When I was young I was always the kid who wanted to compare test scores with my peers. You know, the annoying one who asks, “So…what’d you get on the math test?” I was competitive, and I wanted to make sure my grades were at least on par. If I came up short, I often got mad. And jealous.

Truthfully, I haven’t changed all that much, except now I’m a big kid, and my competitiveness shows up not in weekly arithmetic and spelling quizzes but in my career as a writer. My question isn’t, “What’d you get on the grammar test?” but “How many books did you sell this year?” Or “How many Facebook followers do you have?” Or “Who is endorsing your book?”

I don’t always verbalize these questions out loud, but more often than not, I’m thinking them in my head. And if I suspect I am coming up short in comparison, I often react the same way I did as a kid. I get mad. And jealous.

This, of course, is not only infantile, shallow behavior, it’s also short-sighted. When I focus on my accomplishments, or lack thereof, compared to someone else’s, I lose sight of the big picture. I supplant God’s vision of his kingdom here on earth with my own self-interested goals and desires.

God has a clear vision for what his kingdom on earth should and will look like, and he has a job for each one of us to help bring this vision to fruition. In God’s plan, the specifics of who is doing what don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that we are working collaboratively toward one common goal.

Paul put it this way to the Corinthians:

“It’s not important who does the planting and who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together for the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 3:7-8).

In other words, in my little world as a writer, what’s important isn’t how many books I sell compared to her, or how many Facebook followers I have compared to him, but that I am working together with my peers for the same purpose: to help God grow his kingdom on earth.

handanddirt

gardenboots

gardengloves

P1040014

I know how easy it is to get caught up in the comparison game. I know how quickly we can tumble into the pit of insecurity, resentment, and envy. But I also know that training our gaze on our own successes and failures compared to those of our peers does nothing to help further God’s kingdom.

Maybe your job is to plant or to water. Maybe it’s to till the soil, spread fertilizer, pull weeds, or harvest the bounty. Considered in and of itself, your contribution may seem small and unimportant, but remember this: God is using your work to grow his kingdom here on earth.

Only God can take the life within the seed and bring it forth into blooms and fruit, but your small piece – your planting or watering, your tilling or fertilizing – is an important and necessary part of that process.

Let’s not lose sight of our greater purpose. Together, my hand in yours, our hands in God’s, we are helping him grow something beautiful.

Accept

Weekend One Word: Accept

I've been mulling over this verse lately, namely because I have to write a devotion on it for my church next week. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to say yet, but I do know this: It's a tall order. It sounds lovely when you first read it, doesn't it? "Accept others as Christ accepts you." In … [Read More...]

DSC_0010(5)

You’re Running a Marathon, Not a Sprint

I ran 12 miles (well, "ran" is a bit of an overstatement - "slogged" is more accurate) this past Sunday, and all I could think as I was huffing and puffing and swearing under my breath was how that training run was the perfect metaphor for my professional life as a writer (yeah, cursing … [Read More...]

Joy of Poetry

Why Poetry?

I admit, I've always been a nervy-nelly when it comes to poetry. I am easily intimidated by it, and I tend to avoid it when I can (which was tricky during my English major years). But poet Megan Willome has me thinking these days. Her new book, The Joy of Poetry, has cracked the door, and I'm … [Read More...]

scrapbook-2

Knowing Your Strengths Can Help You Say No

A few months after Noah was born I decided to make him a scrapbook.  I scoured the aisles at Michael’s for stickers and dye-cuts and special scissors with ruffled edges. Every night after Noah was finally settled into his crib, I sat at the dining room table, construction paper littering the floor … [Read More...]

pansies in windowbox

When Our Words Signal a Members-Only Club

Fifteen years ago, when we were new to Lincoln, my husband and I tried out a few churches before eventually settling on a largish congregation in town, namely because it was big enough for me to get lost in the crowd. After all, I wasn’t exactly a model church-goer. I wasn’t even sure I believed in … [Read More...]

Breath

Weekend One Word: Breath

A breath...like the divine fragrance of the apple blossom. It doesn't last long, just a wisp of scent on the wind. Let's make the most of our one, wild precious life, as Mary Oliver says. Because we are moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. (Psalm 39:6). Peace for your … [Read More...]

Buffer Zone

Why You Need a Buffer Zone

I pass a sign on my regular walk with Josie. It stands a few feet from a creek, surrounded by tall grass, a few cat tails, and a handful of oak and bald cypress trees. I’ve read the sign dozens of times as I've passed by, but I've only recently thought about what it really means. It's an odd … [Read More...]