I just finished reading the Bible again for the sixth or seventh time. Not sure. I remember the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately reread it. I would be dishonest if I were to say that I enjoyed the Bible that much. But I am indeed back in Genesis.
I am a very undisciplined person and so reading the Bible offers a degree of spiritual discipline in my life. It offers a way of showing up that does not feel like an obligation.
I do wonder how many so-called Christians really read the Bible. There is lots in there that is confusing. At times I am as bored as when I tried to ready The Ambassadors by Henry James or Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce. (Thanks be for Cliffs Notes!) There is of course great drama. The Book of Ester alone would make an amazing miniseries! There is bawdy humor (see David’s wife upset with him for flashing the family jewels as he danced his victory dance in public). There is payback. There is madness. There is a great deal of violence. And there are many different images of God.
The Bible has been quoted to justify all kinds of politically questionable activities to include war and financial inequities, as well segregation and child abuse. I have heard too many politicians quoting the Bible as part of their quests for power. For years, the New Testament was used to justify anti-Semitism.
Such free-wheeling interpretation and selective reading can reach an absurd level. Take Ezekiel’s vision, for example. This has long been quoted as “proof” of extra-terrestrials. Yesterday I read someone claiming that it was also proof that we have in fact been visited by space aliens!
The Bible poses some other types of challenges. What, for example, do I make of the Book of Revelations? Is it indeed some sort of prediction things to come? The results of someone’s vivid imagination? A highly symbolic portrayal of the Dark Night of the Soul?
Being a confirmed Doubter, I of course encounter many questions. Some are merely logical. (Where did Mrs. Cain come from?) Others are more substantive. Is it me or does God never really answer Job’s demand for an explanation? Still others are central to my journey. As I read the Gospels, what of Jesus’ teachings makes me uneasy?
I’ve learned that my experience of the Bible is enriched by what Jung called active imagination — putting oneself into a scene to discern some spiritual issue within. I may not always like what I see. If I put myself in Gethsemane, for example, sadly I can see that I too might have run away when Jesus was captured. I too might have passed the stranger by the side of the road. I too might have wanted to see His wounds so I could believe.
I’ve never attended a Bible study and I suppose I don’t really study the Bible. I just read it. It’s not that I don’t see value in studying aspects of the Bible. I do. I have been greatly enriched by studies such as Harold Kushner’s piece on the Book of Job. I know I have something to learn from such great minds and spirits. Yet I also believe that I am invited to figure out what the Bible says to me directly, not through someone else’s filter. I am invited to ponder. I am invited to question. I am invited to laugh (Balaam’s Donkey) and cry (St. Dismas).
So I find myself back on Noah’s Ark. (Did you ever try to imagine the smell?) I find myself amazed at Noah’s faith as well as his frailty. (After all, he does get drunk fairly quickly after the flood). I expect this time through, I’ll be struck by something I’d missed before or perhaps experience a story in a new way. I may even be surprised as I was the last time through when I found that I was not bored by Jeremiah and found him to be less negative than I originally thought.
The journey continues.