Reflections from Bible Readings

When we study scripture, it’s not enough to sit back, relax and enjoy a story we’ve heard and heard again.  If we do that we’re being passive, and to be passive around scripture is to miss out on a chance to see the Holy Spirit at work.  Actually, it’s worse than that.  To be passive with the scriptures is downright dangerous.  Instead of being set free by the word of God, the passive reader finds himself, or herself, getting bound up by stale interpretations.  Let me tell you a secret: the Bible isn’t about ‘back then’.  The Bible is about ‘right now’.  It’s not enough to look over the readings of the day; it’s necessary to allow the readings of the day to look you over.

Today we see a depiction of women with which we’re all familiar.  Women are joyfully voicing their appreciation of mighty men.  Women are dancing, beautifully and artistically, at the service of men’s pleasure.  The lives of women are being utilized to highlight the grandeur and accomplishments of the men who are making a splash in the world.  Imagine what goes on with the passive reader.  For such a reader, today’s passages provide a one-way ticket to ‘back then’.  Instead of being buoyed up by the expansive and creative mastery that is divine love, he or she is constrained by the limitations of the past.  To be passive is to be stuck, with no chance of release.

How can we be released from a bondage to the past?  I would like you to consider, for a moment, our own sun.  It is, of course, unimaginably old.  Just the same, though, it’s not the great age of the sun that matters to us.  What matters to us is the light, and the warmth, and the energy it is producing in the present moment.  The sun has been around more than four and a half billion years, but our concern is with what it has done in the last ten minutes.  The sun is ‘right now’.  So is scripture.

Today’s reading from Sirach tells us of God’s glory made manifest when David slew Goliath.  The words of the passage haven’t changed in the 2200 years since they were first penned.  We could be passive and imagine that our reading experience is identical to the experience our great-great-great grandparents had when they were exposed to a story that was already very old.  The alternative is to be active.  Don’t be satisfied merely to search the scriptures – allow the scriptures to search you.  You’re the text.  You’re the glory of God made manifest.

There are Goliaths to slay in the present age but we know that these days the women aren’t merely a ‘song and dance act’.  Today’s Goliaths are being slain by women every bit as much are they are being slain by men. Women themselves are the instruments of God’s glory and when they sing God’s praises they can sing about their own mighty deeds.  How do we know this?  Where is it written?  It can’t be found when we read scripture.  It is found when scripture reads us – our life experience, our hopes and aspirations, our witness to the work God is doing ‘right now’.

God is building a kingdom and She (He?) is using us to do the building.  God has called my mother, my wife, my sister and my daughter to be joyful instruments of the New Creation.  Where is the music they are called to play?  How can I learn to accompany them?  Our instructions are in today’s reading, but we’re going to miss them if we’re passive readers.

Today’s Psalm concludes, Therefore will I proclaim you, O LORD among the nations, and I will sing praise to your name.  I propose that we can do more than meditate on David’s victories as a prompt to sing God’s praise.  My suggestion, today, is that you allow God to open your eyes to the mighty deeds that have been done when women have been the instruments.  Perhaps you will wonder, where does this come from?  Which verse, which phrase?  Why haven’t I heard this before?

Passive readers have two responses to scriptural reflection: “I knew that already” and “That’s crazy!”  When you’re passive, your mind is geared to reject anything that is new.  The Bible is old, so anything new must be off the mark.  What the passive read today is the same thing that they read yesterday.  They’re sure that they’ve already taken in the entire store of spirituality.

God is looking to further an ongoing dialogue with you, but that’s not all.  God is engaging in a dialogue with the entire world.  You’re not going to be able to keep up if you’re not willing to be active when you read the scriptures.  All you’ll ever find is a tired rehash of ideas you’ve tried out already.  Passive readings of scripture constrict spiritual development.  So do readings taken in isolation.  God is shining new light with an old light fixture.  It’s not enough that it brightens up your life.  You must find a way to brighten up the lives of others.

How can I know if I’ve been active with my scripture reading?  How can I know that what I’m getting is fresh and true?  The hallmark of spiritual activity is joy.  Staleness can never provoke joy.  Joy thrives on what is fresh, and what is authentic.  Joy will prompt your soul to dance before the scriptures, and your dance partner is always teaching you new steps.

February 5, 2010

Dance, Sister, Dance
-written by Paul Bradford - Lexington, MA

Sirach 47: 2-11, Psalms 18: 31,41,50-51, Mark 6: 14-29
The women sang his praises and ascribed to him tens of thousands. - Sir 47:8
Herodias' own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you." Mark 6: 22