When I wake up at 3:30 in the morning and already feel a bit warm I suspect it bodes poorly for the temperate hopes of the day.
It’s also dry, last I heard 14% humidity, though as that sounds pretty low and came from a neighbor’s weather station I’m willing to admit some leeway on that point. It is dry, however, enough so that I really can be drinking water all day, and still wake up with my mouth dry, my eyes dry, my tongue dry, my head a wee bit dizzy and mildly headachey. So back to the drinking of water and the occasional juice. Fortunately there’s a slight breeze which picks up in the afternoon. And it’s not really hot right now, it’s more of the expectation of heat, that certainty when I look outside and know that this day isn’t going to be friendly. Sure, it looks all calm and sweet now. That sun is a desert sun and not to be trusted with spurious claims of cooling trends. I fell for that last week.
So, I woke up at 3:30 with my usual bit of inner reformation, spurring me to the heights at that curious hour, and spurring me beyond the prayer and monks which tend to keep me most occupied during times of devoted devotion.
I have a hard time reading Scripture. This is scandalous I know, and I’m hesitant about admitting this, except for the fact it is true, and I already have admitted it. Don’t get me wrong. I value Scripture, I love Scripture, I pepper Scripture about in writing and discussion. I’m convinced that part of why I kept at theological education as an undergraduate and graduate was because the assignments insisted I read Scripture and read it thoroughly. This education and my Picture Bible have given me a solid foundation in Scripture, even if I have a hard time reading.
I’m not kidding about that Picture Bible, by the way. Sure, some purists might offer their disdain, but if you ask me purists really need to get out more, and also need to realize disdain is not one of the Spiritual Gifts given for the edification of the Body. It has been, however, one of the key anti-Spiritual gifts used for the dissolution of the Body over the years. So watch that log in yer eye, ya purist.
The Picture Bible was brilliant at one particular aspect, and this particular aspect is really a major weakness throughout the Church. It gave a sense of the Story. One did not pick up particular verses to be used in ecclesiastical combat. One missed out on certain details, but a young boy or girl could be immersed in the whole Story, from beginning to end and get a sense of the flow, the trends, and the style of God’s work through time that is almost impossible to find in many Christian psyches.
Before filling in the details, a framework of understanding is built, and knowing God becomes like learning a native language, rather than the foreign language quality of divided chapters and verse. This does explain my weakness when it comes to the Prophets, as the Picture Bible doesn’t do much with the Prophets. I still, after twenty five years and good learning, have the pictures of various scenes pop into my head. The whole Elijah story arc is imprinted in my mind, with pictures of the death of Baal’s prophets and the death of Jezebel later on popping into my head at the mere mention of the story. I can also see Cain and Abel, David, Jesus and Lazareth, and a good many others, even if I haven’t even opened that book in a good decade or more.
That’s certainly not the point of this post, which we’ll get back to right now. I have trouble reading Scripture. Most people do I suspect. Though it’s not quite fashionable to admit. This is true mostly because those who don’t have such troubles with Scripture or Prayer define the conversation so as to imply an implicit lack of Faith or Spirituality. Evangelists are like this too, only because of their personalities even more obnoxious if one doesn’t share their ease of communication. Camp People are the same way. I don’t remember one valuable experience at Camp in all my years, and yet such a negative review can’t be mentioned in a Church where Youth Camps are more ingrained theologically than the Eucharist. This is a key reason why I never became a youth pastor. They wouldn’t have me or any of my ilk who had no place in theological development for camps and the associated xtreme sports. Prayer and Scripture people don’t harangue, they just look down on us wee ones with a gentle and holy disdain (see note above).
For whatever reason I have over the past many years become better about learning how to pray. Philip Yancey sparked the move back in College, though it’s taken a fair bit of time and a fair bit of more obscure writers to help me along. Learning to pray as relationship rather than pray as request is helpful, and learning how to pray in response to the Spirit rather than a list is also helpful. But this post isn’t about prayer.
I have a hard time reading Scripture. For that reason I was surprised this morning, in the early morning, when I had the urge to read 2 Corinthians. I have no insights to give on my reading, as insights don’t coalesce until after five, but it did strike me that I found a path for my reading.
Too often I read Scripture for Information, or Points to Make in the Great Debate, or History. These things don’t match my innate yearning for that Story which the Picture Bible enabled (see note above), and yet I have a hard time getting back into the Story, having read it a number of times and become familiar with the overall trends and now the details.
This morning I was reading and it occured to me to think of Scripture as a guide, not a new thought I know. The temporal question of the Faithful is, of course, asking how we live this Christian life in a decidely antagonistic world. I’m not talking about persecution per se, with Christendom being likely one of the more difficult times to find a pure Christianity. Scripture is talking about that. It’s not about our details, and the New Testament seems almost arrogant in its unwillingness to give specifics of order or theology. It’s like we ask, “How then do we live?” Scripture says in response, “Well, here’s a story of someone in similar circumstances. Here’s another. And here’s a picture of how God works in this world. How’s that?” Okay, thanks.
Then it goes on to tell me about prayer and the Spirit, and how Scripture itself realizes it’s a guide and inspiration, not a detailed set of directives which could put us happily on our way. For sets of directives one has to go to the various churches who have chosen a particular era as their ideal.
So what do I do? “Well, Patrick,” Scripture tells me, “this is what Paul did. Peter wrestled with similar kinds of things. God does work in this sort of way.”
There’s an integration between the Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture, and the Spirit who inspires me to my work, whatever that might be. If I can find that integration, and let Scripture be the guide in this discover, not demanding specifics, but letting the words shape my overall understanding of God and his way in the world, I think I could better read Scripture with a daily appreciation.
Like with prayer, reading Scripture isn’t a discipline we do in order to please God. It’s something we pursue in order to find God in our lives and in this world, so really it behooves us to get to the tasks in a way that really helps us find God. No one is helped when we don’t do either, and the same people still are not helped when we do both but without really getting anything out of it. It’s all about finding that key to discovery, which I think is part of the Spirit’s work of maturation in each believer.
So I’ve been behooved towards prayer in recent years, and it seems that maybe I’m being behooved back towards a more personal discovery of Scripture. Which is a lovely thing really, as all the finest Christians back to Christ himself commend both as really being the core disciplines of the faith.