Sunday, December 02, 2018

When Reading the Bible, Let the Bible Read You

This pillow was at the ranch in Bozeman, Montana, where I was with my HSRM colleagues.

When I lead a prayer retreat, or teach a spiritual formation class, I send the students out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. 

I tell them that they are not to exegete the verses, but instead be exegeted by them, via God's Spirit. That is, they are not to figure out the meaning of the verses, but assume the verses have them figured out.

This is an anti-Cartesian, anti-Western hermeneutic. It's more Jewish than American, and has affinities with the hermeneutical theory of Hans-Georg Gadamer in his book Truth and Method. There is an interplay between the text and the reader, with the text being-read by the self, and the self being-read by the text.

The idea is that God, through the biblical text, knows you. Therefore, place yourself before the text and be interpreted. 

This syncs with the idea in the book of Hebrews, which describes the word of God as living and active, like a sword that penetrates your deepest being. The result is a knowing by being-known. The text is no longer a dispassionate object of study, but is more like a passionate surgeon opening you up and studying you.

Henri Nouwen, in his book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, writes about this:

"Spiritual reading is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual life." (Nouwen, Discernmentpp. 41-42)