The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody…He obeys the attractions of an interior voice but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel a big, warm, interior glow. — Thomas Merton
I have a harried relationship with the Bible. For years it was my penance, to repair the damage I had done in the name of sin and selfishness. I read and re-read, outlining and highlighting, learning and re-learning the concepts encapsulated across the tissue papery pages. I was an earnest sort, longing to know and experience God through seeking, earning my keep, and serving well. The bibles of my childhood, from the Children’s New International Version (NIV) with depictions of white Jesus, to my current copy of the NIV Study Bible, all hold a history of yearning and reaching, but never arriving.
But to be honest with you, the Bible had less to do with personal freedom and more to do with maintaining my purity and trust, while awaiting some grandiose revelation that would finally release me from the relentless searching and longing. I found scripture dull at best and condemning at worst. The Beatitudes were the most problematic as I crafted ways to exit myself from the privilege of my American life, to fit the desired but narrow definition of #blessed.
In response, I set my Bible aside. I couldn’t read the words anymore while measuring my worth against the assumed and tired prescriptions. I needed to know my relationship with the God of the Universe did not hinge on my interpretation and my effort and my choice of Bible study. I needed a hermeneutic (the lens through which scripture is interpreted) that carried love, grace, mercy, and hope across the pages, with room for doubt, questions, and freedom from fear. A God of Love, Generosity, and Abundance must overarch the words and the multitude of interpretations.
I am no theological scholar but I do listen to my body. When the Bible reading habit took a nosedive, my contemplative practice flourished. Through listening, writing, meditation, I have come to a deep reliance on my body’s knowing. My body tells me. When the divorce happened between our bodies and our brains, logic and reason became the gods. Logic and reason became the guiding forces for how we express our faith, how we understand Scripture, how we move about in the world. Logic and reason are wholly inadequate, taking me down a path of binaries, with no room for the middle spaces. When life is reduced to good or bad, sinful or holy, right or wrong we lose beauty, we lose hope. I may never accomplish a bullet-pointed exegesis of Scripture, but I will be able to tell you if something doesn’t seem right, and I will search until I find the answer that settles my gut.
Regardless of how we determine truth, and it is individual and unique for each of us, we must hold Scripture with kid gloves, exercising our responsibilities with great care, bathed in a deep well of humility. Many (most) people have been irreparably harmed and traumatized by inaccurate and harmful teaching. If our greatest work is to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves we may have to separate ourselves from scripture until we can view it through a lens of love, generosity, and abundance. We need to let go of the fear that our faith, our salvation is somehow in jeopardy if we do release our presumed understanding.
But, if we believe in a God that is a God of grace, we have room, ample amounts of room to seek and consider and re-consider. We have room to reform our assumptions and reframe our previous and unhelpful narratives.
It’s an interesting thing now to be writing and preaching sermons. And when you write and preach sermons in a Christian church context, it’s rather important to use Scripture. Who knew?
As I move into this new task of preaching, I pray I hold the heft of the responsibility with the gravitas it deserves. I know I will make mistakes. I know I will misinterpret. But, if through generous humility I make my aim to relay the abundant Love of Christ, I think I’ll be okay.
May we let go of the things that hinder us in experiencing the weight of God’s incredible Love. None of us can know what there is to know. May we find rest and peace in listening to the still, almost silent voice, inviting us into full and abundant renewal, even if it means releasing our stubbornest assumptions.