In Monday’s meditation I suggested it’s not enough to read the scripture with our mind, because we are body, soul, and spirit. Hearing God requires all of our being. What makes God’s word “living and active?” I’d like to suggest it’s something more than our intellect.
We’ve explored what it means to bring our imagination to bear in narrative portions of scripture, but what about those didactic letters of Paul and his friends? This is where so many theologians like to live: defining words, developing systematic theology, and generally being the smartest guys in the class. May I speak plainly, and perhaps heretically? I have a basic distrust of systematic theology. I don’t like either word at all. Put them together, I find myself in full rebellion. Count me in the camp with Thomas a Kempis: "I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it."
I want to read the scripture with my heart: engage the Word body, soul, and spirit. I want to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength without allowing my intellect to dominate the other three. I joyfully put myself in the camp of emotionalism because the Creator of the universe is never impressed by our intellect, but he is moved by our heart and our faith.
Here is a passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. ~ Colossians 3: 12-14
I’d like to suggest five ways to engage this passage imaginatively, and, should I say it? Creatively.
1). There’s a ghost in the book. In fact, the Ghost wrote the book. The first step in imaginative reading is to ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. It’s no mere formality: Paul, Peter or James may have written the New Testament epistles but behind the human agency is the loving heart of God. John, the disciple Jesus loved, wrote these amazing words to his followers: As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. (1 John 2: 27) Amazingly, John was dealing with the issue of false teachers in the church, and his solution was remarkably subjective! The same Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation is available to hover over us as we come to God’s word. Does this mean we are infallible interpreters of the word? No. But it does mean we have a loving guide.
2). Feel the love: this passage in Colossians opens with the description, “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” You may not need to go beyond these seven words. If we are dearly loved, shouldn’t we feel it? One of my friends engaged in this exercise: he sat alone in his office and expressed his love to the Father, then waited for the Father to answer. He quietly spoke the words, “God, I love you” and sat in silence, attending to the Lord. A moment later he felt a subtle physical sensation of God’s presence--a still, small voice or the subtle movement of a draft upon his skin. Too mystical? Too subjective? Perhaps we’ve been trained to avoid the experience of his presence: if the text directs us to the love of God, why wouldn’t he respond lovingly?
3). Clothe yourselves: why not extend the metaphor? He presents us with the image of someone preparing to move from private to public. No one leaves home naked! He invites us to extend the metaphor and see ourselves preparing for the day. How do you get dressed in the morning? What decisions do you make? No one puts on every article of clothing they own, but rather they select the clothing appropriate to the day’s tasks. Infants and toddlers must be clothed by others, Paul calls us to the mature response of clothing ourselves. It takes imagination to extend the metaphor into a practical vision for the day. There, in my prayer closet, I ask in advance: Where do I need to show compassion for the day? What kind of compassion will I need? Compassionate tears or compassionate sweat? How should I dress my heart? How can I prepare to meet the needs of others?
4). Imagine what the text does not say. I know: this is dangerous: every Bible scholar tells us not to make “the argument from silence.” Except I am not coming to the scripture to argue: I’m coming to hear the heart of God. Paul provides a representative list of what we need for life together; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. But not necessarily intelligence, wit, or smarts. By imagining what is not on the list I understand that character trumps intelligence. That God desires mercy, not education. The Holy Spirit might even remind me that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
5). Finally, I’m invited to consider the mysteries of incarnation. As one friend commented on Monday’s Meditation, “I'd say the life in these passages is all from the same source: Jesus. Who is the Word; Who is Love; Who is Life. I think I'll remember this every time I'm thinking, What will I wear? I am putting on Christ.” I love this observation because it started me thinking about what it means to put on Christ each day. I started me wondering how Christ put on his humanity, and whether we can put on divinity in return. In short, it started me thinking of how I can be like him.
Some will think I am against using reason and intellect with the scripture. But I’m truly not. I only want to ensure that what comes into my mind will also travel 12 inches to my heart. How about you?