In Genesis, there is this funny and beautiful thing that happens where stories repeat, nearly identical in nature, but the characters are different. What happened to Abraham now happens to Isaac. I’m sure there’s a reason behind it – layers of meaning rooted in theology and history. It means little to me though, except to be equal parts confusing and amusing. I’d ask more questions about this – why the repetition, what does it mean for Israel, or about God, or in my own life – but I wonder if those are even the right questions to ask. Or if I need the questions at all.
Questions are important and necessary; they demand and invite and bring light to the cracks in a text. But they have to be the right questions, or we don’t get anywhere. And if they aren’t the right questions, maybe it’s better to just sit and rest with the text.
At the end of my time in Kentucky, I sat down with my program director and a volunteer coordinator to process my year of service and community. I remember speaking about how I admired the people there for their commitment to reading and knowing Scripture. Certainly, they read it in a different light and there is a danger to continually re-reading something like Scripture – it can start to feel like you know it, period, end-of-story. But my co-workers and housemates all had a regular, personal relationship to Scripture, which is to say they all engaged myth, story, poetry, wisdom – daily. I wanted that, I said, but it can be so tedious – after all, there are so many rules and so many “begets”. The programmer director, a woman whose relationship to Jesus was personal, hard-earned, and earnest, gave me this advice: “I just ask God to let it somehow speak to me, and then I read it.” That was it.
She didn’t sit with the Bible and a commentary; she didn’t interpret or analyze or underline – though at times these are perfectly valid and appropriate approaches. She read it and let it sit in her heart. I think of Mary, who “reflected on all these things in heart” when she, for whatever reason, said yes to God.
Sometimes the question is a barrier. A way to have some power over a text that is remarkably profound and confusing and important.
I’m trying to read the Bible, and I don’t recall why I started, and I’m not sure what I’m hoping to get out of it. I’m still only in Genesis. It’s slow-going. Reading it, I see how imminent God is; how poetic; how personal. He lets Abraham bargain for Sodom & Gommorah. He sends signs like rainbows, and compares his promises to the stars in the sky. Those are things in my world, here and now. More often than not, though, it seems to make little sense and I wonder if my understanding is doing anything to build my relationship with God and with my world.
I pray that it is. I pray that it’s making me see a little more clearly. I pray that even if it isn’t, I can be connected in relationship to these characters, and the scores of Christians throughout the ages who found value in this practice, and to this God who is, frankly, bizarre and still mostly unknown to me. I put down my questions for the time being, and reflect on all these things in my heart. Maybe it’ll work.