Cluttering the Page (January 30, 2013)

…Opening To…

We say we read to “escape.” …A book so excites our imagination that we “consume” it… What would it feel like to consume the sacred book? Or to be consumed by it? To eat it, chew it, swallow it, digest it, to make it a part of you? (Roger Ferlo)

…Listening In…

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. He taught them, saying: “Happy are people who are downcast, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:1-3; context; the three chapters that make up the Sermon on the Mount have 22 headers in the Bible I’m using for this. Thankfully, most are fairly neutral.)

…Filling Up…

The third thing you should do when you read the Bible is ignore several things that clutter the page you’re looking at. None of these things is original to the text and so you will read more authentically when you fail to notice them. (That being said, the English language, paper, spaces between words, and in some cases vowels aren’t part of the original text either, but you’ll get the idea.)

First and most important, ignore the section headers. These are the bold or italicized phrases that purport to tell you what you are about to read. Sometimes, these are quite neutral, such as “Jesus says some stuff” or “Moses goes up the mountain.” Other times, the headers can sway your reading before you do it. A section might be headed, “Jesus says why some folks are bad” or “Moses is angry because of what Aaron did.” These types of headers act like the names of pieces of orchestral music: you read the name and then the music makes you think of whatever the name described. If the music had no name, you’d be free to come up with your own imaginative description of the music.

Along with the headers, ignore the chapter breaks and verse numbers. These were added much later to make it easier for people to find stuff in the text, not to set off little bits of it at a time. (I talked about this last week.) When we let the chapters and verses break up our reading, we sometimes artificially shorten the writers train of thought, and that’s not a good thing.

Finally, ignore the red text. In many editions of the Bible, Jesus’ words are set off by the use of red ink. Now, please don’t misunderstand — don’t ignore the words printed in red text. Rather, ignore the fact the red ink is used at all. The red letters set off Jesus’ words from the rest of the text, making them seem more important. Remember, however, that the entire Gospel is Jesus’ Gospel, not just the words he speaks in dialogue. His actions and the reactions of his followers and opponents are just as important as the words he says.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you put the spark of creativity within me. Help me to interpret the Bible in ways that promote my creation and my continued growth in you. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, gladdened by the prospect of meeting you in the Bible.

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