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.