Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Scripture: An Introduction

Hermeneutics is nothing if not a pragmatic art, so, as a corollary to my other work - and to generate mass, mass appeal! - I'll be interpreting scripture down in the trenches right along with my Vicar and the Revised Common Lectionary. But I'll be doing so by my own rules. Afew years ago I developed/outright stole what I called a hermeneutic of love, a series of questions that read scripture with love implicitly in mind, and based on the conversion of Saul the Pharisee in Acts. And then, because I was terrified, I never actually tried them out. Anyway, here they are, with a little bit of explanation:

 1.  “How does this text baffle me? How does it accuse me?”

To bow to the text is to fall on one's own face. It is to confess one’s limitations and one’s own prosecutorial intent. It is to see with blinding clarity how the text challenges one’s own assumptions. It is to recognize that I did not write the text, but that another full and human and different person did. To bow to the text is to to profess the limitations of one’s own understanding and the enormity of one’s own incomprehension. It is to realize that the text will leave me with questions I will never answer. So to bow before the text is to bring oneself as human, as a failed, broken, and mistaken person, to a text one does not deserve to understand. To bow to the text is to present oneself as a person needing – and thus capable of receiving – love, to confess to the limitations that make love possible, to be stopped in one's own tracks.

2. How does this text guide me? What is it concerned about, what are its interests?

To feel out the text is to stand up wherever we are and walk forward nonetheless. It is to accept a guiding or willing hand, to use all the resources as one's disposal. Feeling out the text, we realize that limited understanding is not non-understanding, but that we must be willing to be led. To feel out the text is to try out tools other than one's own assumptions. When we do so, we risk actually learning about the God that Scripture loves, rather than the God that we might like. But that is the joy of discovery: with senses as strange as feeling must seem to the newly blind, we grope our way forward into understanding, and might be surprised by what we find. 

3. How are these words healing me? When this text loves me, who does it love, and how?

To listen to the text heal is to listen to the message the text has been given to say. Letting the text heal me means taking it to heart, internalizing the healing hands of God which have, while I’ve been reading, caressed my own face. It means taking the text into my being not as myself but as part of someone else, God, the author, the community of people that have brought me and baptized me into the world I now share with Scripture. It is to accept the gesture of the other, of God, that removes the scales from my own eyes, to let Scripture do what family does: to touch our faces and mouth and eyes, to break bread together in the rites of daily life. To let the text heal is to take it into our own flesh, to stand under its authority as though we had been newly born, to let our new, vibrant understanding transform us to our toes. To let the text heal is to see the world anew.  

4.  How can this text heal others? How might my understanding contribute to the greater love of others, of a community? 

To release the text is relinquish control of our own understanding by giving it up to Jerusalem. When we release the text, we confess that our own understanding, our healing, our restoration, has never been for our own sake. It was always for someone else. We have only been given this text in trust, and so we give our understanding up to others. Releasing the text means that our interpretation will be interpreted, and so will we. And we will be have been incorrect in ways we could not know. And we will be misinterpreted in ways we could not possibly predict. But we bow farewell to the safety of the house of Ananias, and offer ourselves up to the streets. To release the text is to sign off on it, to let go of our interpretation and listen, once again, to what another person has to say with compassion and without fear. It is to pray that our interpretations would heal, because that is what has been done to us. When we release the text, we begin to walk the spiral of love that leads from God, to myself, to others, and back again.  

They are, I realize, damned hard questions. They are that way by design. Talk about love and people think you've gone soft, when in fact the very opposite has happened. But it's terrifying. I don't, for certain, know what I'm going to say, how personal my hermeneutic will be. 

But I hope, more than anything, to hear from you. This feature exists for you. It's purpose is you. And it cannot live forever without you. 

So I hope to see those comments. 

the Curious Monk

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