Getting into the Word: Spending time reading and studying the Bible.
I wanted words that I could hold on to, stake my life on. I wanted to write them down in my star-printed fabric journal that was (I’m sorry to say) embellished with a puffy paint Jesus fish.
This was how we approached the Bible then. We built entire theologies around single, obscure verses. The Prayer of Jabez, for example. (More on that in a later post.)
There were lots of collections of Bible verses printed when I was in high school. Books of “promises” for every emotion and difficulty—single Scriptures pulled from their greater contexts and filed alphabetically, categorized for ease of use.
We were hoarders. I was a hoarder. I learned somewhere along the way collect the lovely pieces of Scripture, to line them up on my shelf and watch them glimmer in the lamplight.
I watched a documentary once about strip mining and mountaintop removal in the Appalachian Mountains. It was about the way they use explosives to blast away the mountaintops, the “overburden,” blowing holes into the landscape.
They are eager, these companies who engage in this madness, to get at the dark glimmers of treasure under the surface. So they are leveling peaks, dumping earth into valleys and hollers, contaminating the streams, filling the air with clouds of fly-rock.
It is an easy mistake to make. After all, we are all eager to get at treasure. It is easy to forget about the tall, tall tamaracks. Balsams, frasier, red spruce – these too are treasure. The peaks are rolling over one another into the distant sun; the great oaks are descending into coves. The landscape forms a context for everything beneath.
We are wild with our excavation, and we have strip-mined the Bible too. We are grabbing at the old, beautiful words and slapping them onto our problems, onto the ills of society, onto our enemies, and there are repercussions. There are always repercussions.
It’s like this: the air is filled with the filthy grime of “promises” found lacking when pulled from their larger context. It is hard to take a breath. It is hard to drink from the streams of Living Water when the water tastes like sulfur.
Since my wild Jesus Freak days, I’ve taken some time away from the Bible. I couldn’t breathe it in anymore. I couldn’t find a place to stand among all that broken earth.
Slowly, I am making my way back.
I am coming at it differently now, not as a consumer or an excavator…I am coming slowly. I am coming quietly. I am thinking of it as a landscape, trying not to disturb the wildlife as I take my seat among the tall grasses and wait.
The words rise and fall in ten thousand small stories that make up one great Story. I am resisting the urge to pick up the pretty rocks. After all, if I sit here long enough, these beautiful things will become part of me. Landscape always becomes part of you if you let it in.
Instead of grasping for treasure, I want to only take out what I’ve brought in—my own broken, battered Spirit. Hopefully it will be a little stronger, lighter after sitting still in all that grace, all that beauty.