By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
January 29th, 2023
Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)
Opening Prayer – Prayer of Awareness
It is in the depths of life that we find you, at the heart of this moment, at the center of our soul, deep in the earth and its eternal stirrings.
You are the Ground of all being, the Well-Spring of time, Womb of the earth, the Seed-Force of stars And so at the opening of this day we wait, not for blessings from afar but for You, the very Soil of our soul, the early Freshness of morning, the first Breath of day.
Part I - “Origin Stories” (cont’d)
[“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]
You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to recognize these genre categories for what they are.
In the same way we automatically adjust our expectations when a story begins with “Once upon a time” versus “The Associated Press is reporting . . . ,” we instinctively sense upon reading the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark that the tales of origin aren’t meant to be straightforward recitations of historical fact. The problem isn’t that liberal scholars are imposing novel interpretations on our sacred texts; the problem is that over time we’ve been conditioned to deny our instincts about what kind of stories we’re reading when those stories are found in the Bible. We’ve been instructed to reject any trace of poetry, myth, hyperbole, or symbolism even when those literary forms are virtually shouting at us from the page via talking snakes and enchanted trees. That’s because there’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.
In addition to once again prioritizing modern, Western (and often uniquely American) concerns, this notion overlooks one of the most central themes of Scripture itself: God stoops. From walking with Adam and Eve through the garden of Eden, to traveling with the liberated Hebrew slaves in a pillar of cloud and fire, to slipping into flesh and eating, laughing, suffering, healing, weeping, and dying among us as part of humanity, the God of Scripture stoops and stoops and stoops and stoops. At the heart of the gospel message is the story of a God who stoops to the point of death on a cross. Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved. It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read a storybook to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does.
While the circumstances of the exiled Israelites may seem far removed from us today, the questions raised by that national crisis of faith remain as pressing as ever: Why do bad things happen to good people? Will evil and death continue to prevail? What does it mean to be chosen by God? Is God faithful? Is God present? Is God good?
Rather than answering these questions in propositions, the Spirit spoke the language of stories, quickening the memories of prophets and pens of scribes to call a lost and searching people to gather together and remember.
[A reading – Remember, pp. 12-13.]
This collective remembering produced the Bible as we know it and explains why it looks the way it does – foreign yet familiar, sacred yet indelibly smudged with human fingerprints.
The Bible’s original readers may not share our culture, but they share our humanity, and the God they worshipped invited them to bring that humanity to their theology, prayers, songs, and stories.
And so, we have on our hands a Bible that includes psalms of praise but also psalms of complaint and anger, a Bible that poses big questions about the nature of evil and the cause of suffering without always answering them. We have a Bible that says in one place that “with much wisdom comes much sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18) and in another “wisdom is supreme – so get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7). We have a Bible concerned with what to do when your neighbor’s donkey falls into a pit and exactly how much cinnamon to add to anointing oil. We have a Bible that depicts God as aloof and in control in one moment, and vulnerable and humanlike in the next, a Bible that has frustrated even the best systematic theologians for centuries because it’s a Bible that so rarely behaves.
In short, we have on our hands a Bible as complicated and dynamic as our relationship with God, one that reads less like divine monologue and more like an intimate conversation. Our most sacred stories emerged in a rift in that relationship, an intense crisis of faith. Those of us who spend as much time doubting as we do believing can take enormous comfort in that.
The Bible is for us too.
Origin stories take all sorts of forms, [from family stories], to the legends that urge us to idealize our nation’s founders, to the reason your Jewish neighbors dip celery into salt water at their Passover meal each year. So ubiquitous, [found everywhere], they can blend into the scenery, origin stories permeate our language, our assumptions, our routines. Origin stories sometimes serve to protect us from uncomfortable truths, like the way nostalgia for the first Thanksgiving tends to charm white folks out of confronting our ancestors’ mistreatment of indigenous people. Or they can offer dignity and hope to the suffering the way recounting Israel’s deliverance from Egypt has comforted the Jews through exiles and diasporas and African Americans through
slavery and the civil rights movement.
Origin stories tell us who we are, where we come from, and what the world is like. When we understand the function of origin stories, both in our culture and in our lives, we can make better sense of those found in Scripture.
For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Genesis 1:20 – 2:3 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: In the second half of the creation story, God moves from making inanimate objects to making living things. Humans are sacred. They are not only good but also blessed with qualities that enable them to share in God’s power of creation and oversight of the world. What would it mean to act as an image of God to all those I meet in my daily routine?
Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “The CEB Lectio Divina Prayer Bible”
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Closing Prayer – Prayer of Blessing
May the deep blessings of earth be with us. May the fathomless soundings of seas surge in our soul. May boundless stretches of the universe echo in our depths to open us to wonder, to strengthen us for love, to humble us with gratitude, that we may find ourselves in one another, that we may lose ourselves in gladness, that we give ourselves to peace.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.