By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
February 5th, 2023
Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)
Opening Prayer – Prayer of Awareness
All things come from you, O God, and to you we return. All things emerge in your great river of life and into you we vanish again.
At the beginning of this day we wake, not as separate streams but as countless currents in a single flow,
the flow of this day’s dawning, the flow of this day’s delight, the flow of this day’s sorrows,
your flow, O God, in the twistings and turnings of this new day.
- John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 26.
Part I - “Origin Stories” (cont’d)
[“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]
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.
The creation account of Genesis 1, in which God brings order to the cosmos and makes it a temple, is meant to remind the people of Israel, and by extension, us, that God needs no building of stone from which to reign, but dwells in every landscape and in the presence of the humble will make a home. Should all other identities or securities be thrown into tumult, should nations be fractured and temples torn down, this truth remains – God is with us and God is for us. It’s a story as true now as it was then.
Of course, we miss all this when we insist the Bible’s origin stories are simply straightforward recitations of historical fact, one scientific discovery or archaeological dig away from ruin. What both hardened fundamentalists and strident atheists seem to have in common is the conviction that any trace of myth, embellishment, or cultural influence in an origin story renders it untrue. But this represents a massive misunderstanding of the genre itself.
Literary scholar Barbara Hardy said as long ago as 1968, “We dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative.”
We meet God in narrative too.
The origin stories of Scripture remind us we belong to a very large and very old family that has been walking with God from the beginning. Even when we falter and fall, this God is in it for the long haul. We will not be abandoned.
Christians can learn a lot about Scripture from the people who have had it the longest. I came to this realization a few years ago when a writing project around the women of the Bible introduced me to “midrash” – those imaginative explorations and expansions of Scripture that serve as the most common form of biblical interpretation in Jewish traditions. These writings, some ancient and some modern, alerted me to details in the text I’d never noticed before, and offered playful and instructive interpretations of those details that animated the biblical characters in fresh new ways.
[Some examples of “midrash”, pp. 22-23.]
Midrash, with its imaginative engagement of the Bible’s stories, reminds us that biblical interpretation need not be reduced to a zero-sum game, but rather inspires endless insights and challenges, the way a good story does each time it is told and retold. Our relational God has given us a relational sacred text, one that, should we surrender to it, reminds us that being people of faith isn’t as much about being right as it is about being part of a community in restored and restorative relationship with God. This is how Paul engaged Scripture, after all, and Jesus – both of whom were Jews.
The narrative tradition of Jewish interpretation is supported by the colorful cast of characters that comprises Israel’s family of origin, characters whose antics, in the words of Rabbi Visotzky, unfold in the book of Genesis like “the longest running soap opera in history.”
In the [wilderness], between one bad situation and another, Jacob encounters a mysterious stranger.
While camping alone on the river Jabbok, Jacob is roused by what appears to be a man – a strong one at that – intent on a fight. The two wrestle all through the night, each one gaining the upper hand at one moment only to lose it the next. As dawn breaks and it becomes clear this stranger is no mere “man” but rather the very presence of God, Jacob musters the gall to demand a blessing from his opponent. God relents and delivers a blessing to Jacob in the form of a name change. From now on, Jacob will be known as Israel, which means “He struggles with God.” The fighting ends, but not before Jacob sustains an injury to his hip, one that leave him walking with a limp for the rest of his life. Jacob goes on to make peace with his brother. His twelve sons become the twelve tribes of Israel, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The significance of this story of family origins to the people of Israel cannot be overstated, for it demonstrates how the dynamic, personal, back-and-forth relationship between God and God’s people is embedded in their very identity, their very name – Israel, “because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28).
“Perhaps we need the angel to start grappling with us,” wrote Madeline L’Engle in a “Stone for a Pillow”, “to turn us aside from the questions which have easy answers to those which cause us to grow, no matter how painful that growth can be.”
If I have learned anything from thirty-five years of doubt and belief, it’s that faith is not passive intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It’s a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, all-night-long struggle, and sometimes you have to demand your blessing rather than wait around for it.
The same is true for Scripture. With Scripture, we’ve not been invited to an academic fraternity; we’ve been invited to a wrestling match. We’ve been invited to a dynamic, centuries-long conversation with God and God’s people that has been unfolding since creation, one story at a time. If we’re lucky, it will leave us with a limp.
For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Psalm 104:24 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: The God of creation is the God of blessing. Blessing permeates all creation from the very beginning. We can say that blessing preceded creation too, for blessing was its purpose. We enter a broken and torn and sinful world – that is for sure. But we do not enter as blotches on existence, as sinful creatures, we burst into the world as “original blessings.”
- Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “Original Blessing” – Matthew Fox
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 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
Blessings on the day born of night. Blessings on the earth wedded to heaven.
Blessings on the creatures adored by angels. Blessings on our bodies alive with spirit.
Blessings on our minds filled with dreams. Blessings on our hearts opened by love.
Blessings, blessings, blessings.
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.
- John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 28.
“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.